Bette Midler she’s not. But Tony-winning Broadway veteran Betty Buckley (“Cats,” “Triumph of Love”) brings her own hunger and shine to the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, the unsinkable title character of “Hello, Dolly!”
The Tony-winning Broadway revival opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis with beautiful performances, endless high-gloss costumes and lots of pizazz. Directed briskly by Jerry Zaks with fetching choreography by Warren Carlyle, the production honors Jerry Herman’s clever compositions (expressive conductor Robert Billig leads the orchestra).
This “Dolly” keeps a viewer engaged and entertained even as it’s studded with reminders that it is a gilded antique.
Based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” “Dolly” is a honking old-fashioned musical, with emphases on both the old and the fashion. The throwback narrative is set during a time when marriage for love is good and all, but people are more likely to make the leap for practical reasons — like security and money. Folks still do that? Oh, well.
In Dolly’s case, she’s a widow in 1895 New York trying to crib together a living with a hundred side hustles. Need a dance coach? An impromptu lawyer? A fixer for any problem? Dolly’s your woman.
Over in Yonkers, an ornery half-millionaire shopkeeper named Horace Vandergelder (the fabulous Lewis J. Stadlen) is looking for a wife — or, as he sees it, a housekeeper with benefits. Anyway, he hires Dolly as matchmaker. Turns out, she’s the perfect predecessor to Dick Cheney (who was initially tapped to pick the best vice president). Hired to find the best candidate for a position, Dolly finds that the ideal person is ... herself.
Buckley’s Dolly has us in the palm of her hand even before she opens her mouth. Confident and charismatic, she has several showstoppers, including the title number but also “So Long Dearie.” And her “Before the Parade Passes By,” a cry of the heart, is gorgeously affecting.
Stadlen, a Broadway veteran with solid credits (“The Producers,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Candide”), totally inhabits the grumpy Vandergelder who falls for Dolly, even if he’s the last to realize it. Stadlen takes the edge off his character’s sexism, helping us to wince less on “It Takes a Woman.”
The production team, including Santo Loquasto (scenic and costume design) and Natasha Katz (lighting) goes all out for the show. The turn-of-the-century costumes look lavish. Carlyle’s choreography, including the famed dance of the high-kicking waiters, is beautifully entertaining. And the supporting cast is top-shelf.
We don’t get all the choreography of Gower Champion’s original “Hello, Dolly!” production, especially that dance of the waiters. But the show feels full, and is well-paced, clocking in at 2½ hours with intermission.
In fact, the only place where the show seems to drag is the courtroom scene where Buckley’s Dolly spends a little too much time chewing food (and scenery). No matter. For a fun evening at the theater, you can say a cheerful hello to this “Dolly!”