How to describe a force of nature? A blockbuster success even before the curtain went up on opening night, the new revival of Hello, Dolly! marks legendary performer Bette Midler’s highly anticipated return to Broadway, and thanks to a top-notch cast and an award-laden production team, it more than justifies the hype.
Directed and choreographed by Tony winners Jerry Zaks and Warren Carlyle, this vibrant take on the classic Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman musical — about a meddling matchmaker (Midler) who sets her sights on a wealthy shop owner (David Hyde Pierce), fixing up his employees (Gavin Creel and Taylor Trensch) with a widowed milliner (Kate Baldwin, Finian’s Rainbow) and her enthusiastic assistant (newcomer Beanie Feldstein) in the process — is old-fashioned, energetic entertainment wrapped in a technicolor bow, and the crowds are eating it up. On the last night of previews, not even a brief pause for technical difficulties (the latest in an eventful pre-opening run) could dampen the mood: The packed house was quick to show its appreciation for stars, dancers, costumes, and sets alike, offering ardent applause, easy laughter, and more than one mid-show standing ovation.
It’s next to impossible to avoid getting swept up in the excitement. The high-stepping, whirling-dervish chorus sets the tone, and the rest of the ensemble follows suit. As grouchy but good-hearted half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, Pierce (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) grouses and sulks as only he can — with impeccable comic timing and delivery. Baldwin’s soprano is clear as a bell, her Irene Molloy a shameless flirt who’s given up on romance; her foil, Feldstein’s wide-eyed, bubbly Minnie Fay, is a scene-stealer, while Creel (Book of Mormon) and Trensch (Matilda) are funny and sweet as two well-meaning small-town guys out for adventure. From Will Burton and Melanie Moore (the latter of whom employs an incredible ear-piercing wail throughout) as an inoffensive young couple in love to Jennifer Simard’s raucous turn as floozy Ernestina, the casting is flawless.
But let’s be clear: This show belongs to the Divine Miss M. Unbelievably, it’s Midler’s first time headlining a Broadway musical, and the titular role of Dolly Gallagher Levi is the ideal vehicle for her talents — her voice is as strong as ever, and between the high-energy set pieces and the quiet, poignant moments, she keeps the crowd eating out of her hand. Winking lyrics like “It’s so nice to have you back where you belong” earn cheers and whistles, and the ample opportunities for Midler to show off her well-documented, still-razor-sharp comedic chops (watch for a wordlessly hilarious bit in the courtroom scene) bring roars of approval. It’s a performance only a diva could give.
Hats to stockings, Tony-winner Santo Loquasto’s costumes are a highlight. The day-glo “Sunday Clothes” sequence, the visual cornucopia of the 14th Street parade scene, and the sparkly, feathered red showstopper for “Hello, Dolly!” (an amped-up nod to the iconic original) are particularly fabulous, but he’s equally adept at vintage suiting (see: mixed plaids and a purple Wonka-esque look, complete with matching bowler), corsets, and frills. From the saturated set design, also courtesy of Loquasto, to Carlyle’s perfectly executed, intricate dance numbers, there are no weak links in this production. An impeccable blend of spectacle and star power, this Dolly! is classic Broadway at its best. A