BETTY BUCKLEY BRINGS TO THE STAGE A QUINTESSENTIAL “HELLO, DOLLY!”

Reviewed by: Kenneth Shaw

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Photos: Julieta Cervantes

Perhaps it is the sign of the times we are living in but given the thunderous opening night standing ovation that greeted Broadway legend Betty Buckley and her interpretation of Dolly Levi it is clear that both star and show have collided to make this classic musical find itself again.

It is hard to fathom that is has been over fifty years since this Jerry Herman turner first hit the Broadway stage, making an even bigger star out of Carol Channing who stepped into the headdress after Mary Martin, for whom the show was written, bowed out.  After an ill received film version and decades of good and not so good national tours, its was a revelation when Bette Midler was announced to bring Dolly back to Broadway for a limited run with director Jerry Zaks helming this new production. The revival, which just wrapped up in August, was a celebrated hit both critically and financially winning four Tony Awards leveraging this national tour as one the most anticipated in over a decade.

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What makes this revival so powerful is how Jerry Zaks and new book writer Michael Stewart is able to access the power of womanhood that composer Jerry Herman invests in his creation.  Dolly Gallagher Levi is a complex woman far ahead of her time and smarter than any male that comes into her bath. Though she is grieving the loss of her own husband and trying to reinvent herself in an age when women are relegated to certain norms, Dolly still believes in the joy finding a perfect mate can bring a person.  Complex, oh yes. But so is Mame Dennis, another character Mr. Herman brings to life with power and abilities far beyond those of mortal women.

Each of the prior Dolly’s have brought their star power to the role, sometimes at the expense of the character itself.   Now comes Betty Buckley who innately brings a complexity to the role akin to no other. As she did with her reinvention of Norma Desmond, Ms. Buckley’s Dolly Levi is flawed, funny and unflappable.  She will having you belly laughing at one moment and choking back a tear at the next. Then there is that unmistakable, powerful, belting Broadway voice, perhaps the finest ever heard on the stage, which has only gotten richer over time.  

Ms. Buckley gives vibrant interpretations of Herman’s score including the opening “I Put My Hand In”, “Before The Parade Passes By”, “So Long Dearie” and of course the title song when danced with Warren Carlyle recreating Gower Champion’s “The Waiters Gallop” is pure theatre magic.

Perfectly paired with Ms. Buckley for this tour is Lewis Stalden as Horace Vandergelder, Dolly’s conquest and sometimes foil.   As is the case for other Jerry Zak productions, secondary characters and the ensemble are every bit as good as the headliner. Hello, Dolly! is no exception as a new comic duo arises with Nic Rouleau (who Chicagoan’s adopted as their own after Book of Mormon) brings us a sure footed store clerk Cornelius Hackl precisely partnered with Jess LeProtto’s Barnaby Tucker making “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” a highlight of the evening.  Analisa Leaming’s Irene Malloy gives us a perfect contrast to Dolly and her rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back” is almost heartwrenching.

Hello, Dolly! is also a feast for the eyes with elaborate period costumes and vibrant set design by Santo Loquasto.

One thing is certain from the audience reception of this revival of Hello, Dolly! is that we are living a world in need of strong, vibrant women.  For that reason alone, Dolly will never go away again.

HELLO, DOLLY!  runs for a limited 4 week engagement at Broadway In Chicago’s historic Oriental Theatre (24 W Randolph St) through Saturday, November 17, 2018. Individual tickets for HELLO, DOLLY! at the Oriental Theatre are on-sale and range in price from $27 – $108 with a select number of premium seats available. Tickets are available  for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000 and online at broadwayinchicago.com