Theater Review: Betty Buckley delivers joy as ‘Dolly’ at Straz Center

TAMPA — As the world seems to be falling apart around us and the headlines are all about divisions, we all could use a little time with “Hello, Dolly!”

The Tony Award-winning revival of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s musical that opened Tuesday night at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts is the kind of joyous theatrical experience that can make you forget your troubles for at least a few hours. It is lavish, colorful and exuberant and seems to pass by in the blink of an eye. It was the first time in recent memory that I can’t recall constantly checking my watch during a show.

The production,directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, takes its own fresh approach to the 1964 show but with frequent nods to the original staging and dance routines by Gower Champion. The bent bodies and light bounces in “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and the cake walk steps with outstretched arms in “Elegance” have a familiar glow in a new package, as does the title song. Carlyle also offers some nice comical touches to the rousing “Waiter’s Gallop,” in which a dozen or more chorus members playing servers at the Harmonia Gardens Cafe in late 19th century New York dance and leap while balancing plates, trays of food and champagne bottles.

Of course, the show has been a star vehicle ever since Carol Channing debuted on Broadway (and many times over the years). This tour features Tony-winner Betty Buckley, who may not get all the laughs that Channing or Bette Midler (who won her own Tony for the role in 2017) achieved, but brings tremendous passion and heart to the role of meddlesome matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi. You believe her, and she had me laughing at the way she finished off a plate of turkey and gravy.

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