Review: “Hello, Dolly!”

Betty Buckley and the cast of “Hello, Dolly!” (photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

RECOMMENDED

Where: Oriental Theatre,
24 W. Randolph St.
When: through Nov. 17
Tickets: $27-$108
Phone: 800-775-2000

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

I  missed the ballyhooed 2017 Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!” with Bette Midler in the title role,but the national tour starring Betty Buckley at the Oriental Theatre is a delight.

In fact, I can’t remember seeing a more joyous production of the iconic 1964 musical by Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Michael Stewart (book) based on Thornton Wilder’s 1955 “The Matchmaker,” itself a retitled revision of his 1938 farce “The Merchant of Yonkers.”

Laced with memorable songs including the lovely “Ribbons Down My Back,” the romantic “It Only Takes a Moment,” the poignant “Before the Parade Passes By” and, of course, the title number, the show springs to life with stunning dance routines choreographed by Warren Carlyle, among them the sunny, stately “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and the sensational “The Waiters’ Gallop,” a masterpiece of precision timing, stacks of plates, skittish serving pieces, and swaying Champagne bottles.

The dance corps more than does them justice. The singing is topnotch.  And the designs, especially the pastel painted backdrops and warm jellybean-toned costumes by Santo Loquasto, are sheer eye candy.

The evening also is exceedingly funny, thanks to Jerry Zaks’ canny direction and a cast packed with terrific comic actors. They start with Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder, the miserly, curmudgeonly, widowed Yonkers hay and feed merchant and well-known “half-a-millionaire” who has hired matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi to find him a second wife. While he views a new spouse as someone to clean and cook—a notion elaborated on in “It Takes a Woman” – Dolly’s agenda is to snag him for herself and spread his money around “like manure,” just as her dearly departed husband taught her.

Horace is planning a day in New York to march in the 14th Street parade and meet Irene Molloy (Amalisa Leaming), the widowed milliner with whom Dolly fixed him up. But Dolly, a woman with business cards for all occasions who rightly calls herself a “meddler,” convinces him she has a better match for him in the rich Ernestina Money (Jessica Sheridan) and arranges a rendezvous at the ritzy Harmonia Gardens Restaurant.

Since the boss is going to be away, Horace’s two singularly unworldly employees decide to go to New York, too, and not come back until they get kissed. Nic Rouleau as tall, gangly, 33-year-old chief clerk Cornelius Hackl and Jess Le Protto as the shorter, 17-year-old Barnaby Tucker, a human handspring who dances up a storm, are the perfect pair: They hilariously answer questions in unison and play off each other beautifully. As Cornelius is attracted to Irene, Barnaby takes a shine to her shy assistant Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn), and the little shimmy they do to acknowledge each other speaks volumes.

Dolly’s meddling extends to Horace’s niece, Ermengarde (Morgan Kirner), who gets to do little more than cry very loudly because she wants to escape her uncle and marry her beau, Ambrose Kemper (Garett Hawe). She convinces them that the only way to get what they want is to enter the dance contest at the Harmonia Gardens.

Following a madcap slapstick routine at Mrs. Molloy’s Hat Shop – with Cornelius and Barnaby trying to avoid being seen by Horace – everyone ends up, unbeknownst to each other, at the Harmonia Gardens, which is presided over by Rudolph Reisenweber portrayed by Wally Dunn, another gem of a performance. Showcasing Dolly’s famous song as she descends the red carpeted staircase, this scene is the show’s centerpiece. After a police raid, it segues to a courtroom with Dolly quietly at a table in the corner relishing the last of a turkey leg and tureen of gravy.

It’s easy to imagine some of the divas who’ve played Dolly milking this food foray for every comic nuance, but that’s not Buckley’s greatest strength – or at least the sequence seemed to go on too long, maybe because I was sitting too far away to see all the details.

What Buckley brings to the role is a style firmly rooted in truth. She’s strong-willed and determined but not so over the top that she’s annoying. And when she begs her late husband to give her a sign allowing her to rejoin the human race after ten years of grieving widowhood, it’s moving enough to bring a tear to your eye. She sings and dances well enough, if not brilliantly, and more importantly, she balances out some of the other performances, which tend to be a little too cartoonish at times.

All in all, this “Hello, Dolly!” is better than I expected and definitely worth catching.