A musical you’ll never want to say goodbye to
Right from the top, a spoiler: This reviewer has been a total fan of “Hello, Dolly!” since Carol Channing invented the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi more than 50 years ago, so do not look for anything but a glowing report here.
Back then, Channing as Dolly had me at her opening number, “I Put My Hand In.” Betty Buckley, leading the national touring company of the show at the Boston Opera House, did the same for me at the Wednesday press opening night. Buckley, a legendary Broadway star, brings the character to brimming life opposite long-time comedian, Lewis J. Stadlen, as the grumpy, “well-known, half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. Despite Stadlen’s stage smarts as Horace, his character still hasn’t a chance against Dolly.
In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last half-century, or are too young to know, “Hello, Dolly!” adapted by Michael Stewart (book) and Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) from Thornton Wilder’s play, “The Matchmaker,” burst on the scene in 1964 in New York where it held the stage for 2,844 performances (winning 10 Tony Awards), with umpteen revivals to follow.
Based on the 2017 Broadway revival, the current touring production, succulently directed by Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Warren Carlyle (in homage to the original director-choreographer, Gower Champion), is blessed with an A+ cast and the most beautiful, imaginative sets and costumes ever, designed by Santo Loquasto. We owe heaps of thanks to the producers who have put this elaborate, loving spectacle on the road, where it wowed the Boston audience that filled every seat in the theater.
The story details the ambition of the widow, Dolly Gallagher Levi, to marry the widower, Horace Vandergelder, the crotchety, old skin-flint who has decided he needs a new wife, more for a free housekeeper than for love, as he describes in “It Takes A Woman.” Dolly, masquerading as a match-maker, pretends to find someone for him, but tugs and pulls to get him for herself. She is tired of living “hand to mouth” as she says in her prayers to her deceased husband. She wants to marry Horace for his money and security.
The scene changes from Yonkers to Manhattan where Dolly tries to capture Horace at Harmonia Gardens, the most expensive restaurant in town. The true climax of the show brings Dolly down a flight of stairs in her wondrous entrance when she is wrapped in a red, sparkling gown, topped by a feather headdress that must have taken the lives of dozens of birds. The build-up to the scene is “The Waiters’ Gallop,” a dance number filled with jumps, turns and capers galore, followed by the title song, “Hello, Dolly!”
The other characters of the sub-plots: Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau, splendid) and Barnaby Tucker (Sean Burns, an excellent dancer), down-trodden clerks at Vandergelder’s store in Yonkers; and their newly-found girlfriends, Irene Malloy (Analisa Leaming, of the glorious voice) and Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn), turn up at the restaurant, but try to hide from their employer. Mayhem ensues, but since “Hello, Dolly!” is an old-time musical without a politically correct notion in sight, other than pleasing the audience, all knots are tied for a happy ending.
Herman’s score has not faded with age, nor is the universal message less true about love conquering all, or at least as a reminder of the need for companionship as one grows old. Mrs. Levi is a savvy, independent woman, equally pertinent for the 21st century, despite her reasons to marry again. Set at the end of the 19th century in small-town America, before the suffragettes won the vote or a wider choice of professions, she continues to carry the banner for brave women everywhere, no matter the era.
Whether you have seen “Hello, Dolly!” in the past or not, don’t miss this version of one of the “still glowing,” American musical treasures.