During the Golden Age of the Broadway musical, composers wrote intentionally catchy patter songs, inserted a kickline for the ensemble, gave the leading lady an 11 o’clock number and sent the audience home grinning … and, if you were a hit, humming a tune. They don’t make ’em like that anymore… only they do — they are called revivals.
And perhaps no musical best embodies the splash and sass of The Great White Way so endearingly as Hello, Dolly!, Jerry Herman’s 1964 musical comedy now on a national tour of the 2017 Broadway revival. And when it comes to old-school theatrical entertainment, it sticks every landing.
The story centers around Dolly Levi (played by North Texas native Betty Buckley), a widowed matchmaker in Yonkers, N.Y., in the 1880s, who decides she’ll finally set herself up instead of all her clients. The show begins almost immediately with Dolly vamping directly to the audience. It’s all very Vaudevillian in style — colorful as an Easter parade, and kitschy as a pageant.
The director, Jerry Zaks, manifests a clear affection for the tropes of this half-a-century-old show, from the flat backgrounds to the exaggerated characterizations (they all have deliciously baroque names like Cornelius Hackl and Horace Vandergelder) to the rapid-fire one-liners. The gags come rat-a-tat-tatting at you with nearly as much energy as the dance sequences and the songs. It feels like a silent movie of the Keystone Kops come vibrantly to life.
And the cast really sells it. As the restless hatmaker Irene Molloy, Analisa Leaming taps into a comic sexuality often omitted. The best voice in the cast probably belongs to Nic Rouleau as the gangly romantic Cornelius, and the best dancing comes from the swoon-worthy charmer Sean Burns as his sidekick Barnaby. Veteran B’way actor Lewis J. Stadlen appears to be channeling — pitch-perfectly — the spirits of W.C. Fields and Walter Matthau as the crusty half-a-millionaire who is in the sights of Dolly’s matrimonial plans.
But the marquee star is, of course, the legendary Betty Buckley in the title role (at 72, on her first-ever national tour). Buckley has a cabaret singer’s way with phrasing; she gets behind the melody, weaving her way around the lyrics as if discovering their meaning for the first time. Even when the waiters at the Harmonia Gardens (the ensemble is terrific) kick and leap and promenade, your eyes are on Buckley. It’s a lovely showcase for a seasoned talent, and a refreshing summer delight.
— Arnold Wayne Jones