Betty Buckley and Cast Shine in Fun and Mischievous ‘Hello Dolly!’
Hello Dolly! is a grand dame of Ameirican Musical Theater.The Pittsburgh CLO has the touring production with Betty Buckley as the meddling matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi at the Benedum Center through August 11. It is the last show of the CLO’s summer series.
Some musicals are a hit right away and don’t need much tinkering. Others, like Hello Dolly!, have a longer road. Hello Dolly!’s origins go back to Thorton Wilder’s 1938 comedy, The Merchant of Yonkers. He adapted it from an earlier English play, A Day Well Spent. It didn’t do very well so Wilder revised it in 1955 and gave it a new name, The Matchmaker. The play was then a hit.
Legendary producer David Merrick brought the show to Broadway in 1964, but not before a few hiccups of his own. The role of Dolly was written for Ethel Merman, but she turned it down. Mary Martin passed on it too. Noted directors Hal Prince and Jerome Robbins both turned down Merrick’s request to be involved with the show. Merrick called the production, Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman then Call on Dollybefore hearing Louis Armstrong’s recording of a promo version of the “Hello Dolly!” song of the show and changed the name. Armstrong’s song actually knocked The Beatles off of the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1964. Merrick tweaked the show after test runs in Detroit, Michigan, and Washington, D.C
Carol Channing opened as Dolly in the 1964 production, with it becoming her signature role. Hello Dolly!would win an amazing 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical that year. There was a movie version starring Barbra Streisand in 1969. There have also been four Broadway revivals, one in 2017 featured Bette Midler in the title role. That revival won four Tonys and a Grammy. The touring version is part of that revival and is the one visiting Pittsburgh with Buckley as Dolly and Lewis J. Stadlen as the miserly and miserabile half-millionaire and widower, Horace Vandergelder.
Hello Dolly! in Pittsburgh
I attended the opening performance Tuesday night. It was a lively and packed house. Betty Buckley is a veteran actress having played diverse roles from the gym teacher in the movie Carrie, second wife of Dick Van Patten’s character in the ABC TV show “Eight is Enough,” and as Grizabella in the original Broadway production of the musical Cats. She has many theater, film, and TV credits and won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in Cats. Buckley played Dolly magnificently in this performance making her mark on the role as did her big name predecessors.
The Dolly character is so deep, charismatic, and deliciously devious. She has more business cards with different lines of work on them than even Jim Rockford, and can produce them at a moments notice when needed. However she is growing tired of all her scheming and hard work and has set her sights on marrying the owner of Yonkers Hay and Feed, Horace Vandergelder. She comes up with a hilarious scheme to encourage Vandergelder to marry her and provide her with a more comfortable life. Dolly also encourages true love when she sees it, after all she had a very happy marriage to her late husband Ephram.
Buckley was especially memorable in how she acted the role in a fun, mischievous manner. A very touching moment was in her singing of the melancholy, but also uplifting song, “Before the Parade Passes By.” Another was in the “Hello Dolly!” song and dance number. Dolly makes a dramatic entrance in that scene from atop a grand staircase wearing an elegant dress. It was fantastic to see the well known song come alive in the restaurant scene. It’s a beautiful song. Buckley did well in the vocal parts of the role.