Billy Joel? Rolling Stones? Metallica? It felt like a typical rock concert with the audience up on its feet cheering wildly. The only thing missing was cigarette lighters and cell-phone lights waving in the darkness. But this was no rock concert.
This was, in fact, Bette Midler as Dolly Levi in the much-touted revival of Hello, Dolly! In this limited run of the classic musical, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, the divine Miss M can do no wrong.
I have never seen a middle-aged Broadway audience behave quite like this. The sold-out crowd was abuzz with anticipatory excitement, and when Midler made her first entrance early in the first number, you could feel the walls of the Shubert Theatre shake from the thunderous applause, and like any sitting royalty, Midler took it all in her stride, smiling broadly.
Miss M is in fine form and knows how to cater to her audience. She’s also a pro at milking a line and over-playing funny bits. In one scene, the entire cast awaits her response but she’s finishing dinner and savoring every bit of it, licking her fingers and even drinking the gravy. And she continues because the laughter continues. She mugs and drags out every line and gesture, much to the audience’s delight. Sadly, the 70-year-old’s voice is not what it was and, in fact, sounds a bit gravelly, but I doubt that anyone much cared. Her timing is perfect and her face overly expressive.
Midler is ably assisted by David Hyde-Pierce, as Horace Vandergelder, the curmudgeonly “half a millionaire.” He hires Dolly as matchmaker, not realizing that she has already found a match for him: herself. Hyde-Pierce is a wonderful comedian and gets a soliloquy, “Penny in My Pocket,” which was cut from the original show for the sake of time. It’s good that it was included because it gives Hyde-Pierce a chance to shine on his own. He has a comical way of pursing his lips to show his displeasure. Although he’s a bit young for Midler and looks a bit silly in an absurd-looking hairpiece, it seems inconsequential.
The two young lovers, Cornelius (Gavin Creel) and Irene Malloy (Kate Baldwin), are talented Broadway regulars. Creel is charismatic, talented and bursting with energy. The good-looking Creel appeared in a supporting role in She Loves Me and I’m waiting for a smart Broadway director to cast him as a leading-man; he has what it takes. Baldwin is lovely with a voice to match.
The show is directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Warren Carlyle. Hello, Dolly! arrived just in time to take the theater award season by storm. The scenery and costumes by Santo Loquasto are colorful, fanciful and vibrant and the scenery reminded me of the fanciful, gorgeous She Loves Me perfumery. (That set won the Tony and Carlyle was nominated for the choreography.) The revival is leading all the others in theatrical nominations, and my money’s on Midler and the show to take home their respective Tonys.
A local non-profit is sponsoring an online raffle and offering many fine items, including tickets to several top Broadway shows. Since there are still a few days to go, most of the items are at half of the suggested value – except for the Hello, Dolly! tickets. That bid is already way over. These are among the hottest tickets in town. Dolly’s “back where she belongs.”