Betty Buckley in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Broadway tour brings stage classic to new generations
by Philip Potempa
It takes a special talent to step into the heel-kicking shoes of that legend of stage, the irrepressible Dolly Levi.
Throughout the decades, the title character role of Broadway‘s “Hello, Dolly!” has been played by everyone from Pearl Bailey, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable and Phyllis Diller as well as Barbra Streisand cast to play her for the 1969 film version.
And of course, Carol Channing, a larger-than-life personality both on and off stage and camera, started it all. Channing, who will celebrate her 98th birthday in January, is Broadway royalty and I was fortunate to see her revive her Dolly identity on stage in 1994 at the old Shubert Theater in Chicago. She originated the role in the Jerry Herman musical when it first debuted in 1964.
Through Nov. 17, there’s a new Dolly in town saying and singing “hello” to audiences, courtesy of Broadway In Chicago presenting the four-week run of the four time Tony Award-winning Best Musical Revival “Hello, Dolly!” at the historic Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. with Tony Award-winning Broadway legend Betty Buckley smiling at audiences from under those signature plumes and wide-brimmed hats.
The revival of “Hello, Dolly” began performances on Broadway March 15, 2017 before it officially opened on April 20, 2017, with Bette Midler winning raves for her performance and helping the show break the record for best first day of ticket sales in Broadway history, the box office record at the Shubert Theatre 12 times, and shattering The Shubert Organization’s all-time record 10 times, before the production ended its historic Broadway run on Aug. 25, 2018.
When this new Broadway tour began in Cleveland, Ohio in October, before hitting Chicago as the second city of the tour, Buckley became the marquee name, and she brings her own magical winks, nods and head tilts to this iconic role along with her amazing vocals and precise comedy timing, none of which is easy in a demanding spotlight to transform into the one-and-only Dolly Levi.
This run also celebrates the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion, who is hailed for this work as “one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history.” Buckley bravely wears the famed high-button shoes and leads the parade as guided by four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle with the benefit of the entire creative team of the Broadway production reprising their roles for this national tour, including four-time Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto for brilliant scenic and costume design, as well as six-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz with lighting design, Tony Award winner Scott Lehrer‘s sound design, Andy Einhorn‘s music direction and Tony Award winner Larry Hochman‘s orchestrations, Tony Award winner Don Pippin‘s vocal arrangements, David Chase‘s dance arrangements and Telsey + Company providing casting.
My last face-to-face with a run of “Hello, Dolly!” was just about this same time of year, five years ago in 2013 for the two-month Chicagoland production at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
It always remains the same, without a talented co-starring cast, there can be no magic or meddling from the well-intentioned heroine Dolly Gallagher Levi.
In case it’s been a while since you’ve spent time with “Dolly,” the story is set at the turn-of-the-century, with the widowed matchmaker Dolly cunningly negotiating marriages for others through a series of comic romantic entanglements, while ultimately setting her sight on a wealthy, possible find for herself. Her target is frugal “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder, who owns profitable store and is played here by Broadway favorite Lewis J. Stadlen, who serves up just the right amount of vinegar and salty stance.
Helping run the Vandergelder shop is clerk Cornelius Hackl, played by the bright and wide-eyed Nic Rouleau, a fine talent I first interviewed five years ago during his Broadway in Chicago “Book of Mormon” days. Second clerk-in-command is the scattered and highly excitable Barnaby Tucker, played by comedic and likeable Jess LeProtto. The gents romantic counterparts are played perfectly by Analisa Leaming as Irene Molloy and Kristen Hahn as Minnie Fay, the “city” shopkeepers of a ladies hat boutique. Adding to the crossed about courting are Morgan Kirner (who has perfected stage crying and sobbing as points of punctuation) as Mr. Vandergelder’s lovelorn niece Ermengarde and her suitor Ambrose Kemper, played with gusto by Garett Hawe.
With a running time of just under three hours, the sets, costumes and musical numbers all rank as lush and lavish. Buckley captures the audience immediately in her opening number with “I Put My Hand In” and by the close of the first act, she has the audience gripped tightly in her gloved hand for the dazzling “Before the Parade Passes By” prior to curtain. During Act II, while the grand scale of the staircase and dining alcoves are impressively presented at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant (where Dolly is rightly worshiped by the staff), the drama and silly excitement of “The Waiters Gallop” seemed a bit off to my eye and ear. However, all is forgotten once Buckley as Dolly makes her entrance for her big moment and musical number “Hello, Dolly!”
And by the final scene of the musical, the lessons to be learned for all are just as important today, as they was 55 years ago.
Tickets are $27 – $108 with a select number of premium seats available. FYI: (800) 775-2000 or www.BroadwayInChicago.com or www.hellodollyontour.com