Victor Garber is back where he belongs.
It’s been eight years since Garber’s last Broadway performance in a play (Noël Coward’s Present Laughter), 11 since his last musical (an Encores! production of Follies), and an incredible 23 since his last Broadway musical (the 1994 revival of Damn Yankees). Now, the theater veteran returns to his musical roots in Hello, Dolly!, taking over for David Hyde Pierce as tight-fisted half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder opposite Bernadette Peters, who steps into the shoes last filled by Bette Midler as matchmaker Dolly Levi. And yes, Garber says, the story of a character triumphantly returning to old haunts after some time away “definitely” strikes a chord.
“For me, it’s just coming back to the world that I started in,” Garber told EW in December, just weeks after beginning rehearsals alongside Peters. “It feels very comfortable to be back in a rehearsal room with a stage manager and tables, working with tape on the floor and trying to figure out, oh, are those stairs or is that a wall? [Laughs] Which I’m really bad at. I keep saying, ‘Am I standing on the wall? What am I doing?’ So I’m kind of hopeless with all that. But it feels just very comfortable to be back doing this, because it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the stage and certainly in a musical.”
The pieces began falling into place when Garber departed the Vancouver-based Legends of Tomorrow after two and a half seasons as a regular on the CW series. When he was approached about taking over for Pierce in Hello, Dolly!, Garber says, “I hadn’t seen the production at the time, and it really had never even crossed my mind. It was kind of like a gift, really. I think of it as a gift.”
And of course, working with Peters was its own draw. “Bernadette I’ve known for years,” said Garber, citing their work in Disney’s 1997 TV musical production of Cinderella. “It makes perfect sense for us to be together at this point in our lives.”
He added, “When I knew that Bernadette was scheduled to do it, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to do it.”
For Garber, who says he “didn’t really know the show all that well” before signing on, getting to know the classic musical has been an added bonus. “What really was wonderful was to discover what a great, great piece of theater it is,” Garber said. “And this production brings that to life in a magical way, from every aspect: the design, the choreography, the direction obviously, the everything. It’s just as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned. It’s what I always imagine a Broadway musical to be and here it is.”
Among his credits, Garber has originated some iconic roles in musical theater, including Sweeney Todd’s Anthony Hope and Assassins’ John Wilkes Booth (the latter of which was in a 1990 Off-Broadway production directed by Jerry Zaks, also the director of this revival of Hello, Dolly!). But Garber still sees plenty of opportunities to create something new in an existing production. “The great thing is that we’re not in any way beholden to what has preceded us,” he said, “except that there are things that obviously work and we’re incorporating a lot of those into what we’re doing when it feels right. Jerry is great in that way; he’s been very patient, and we’re discovering our own version, obviously, because we’re different people.”
That said, stepping into what’s already been “established as a great revival” does have its perks. “When Bette and David did it, they set the bar,” Garber said, “and so now we just have to go in and kind of do our version of that.”
“I’m stepping into the Cadillac here,” he raved.
But after so many years away from Broadway musicals, Garber admitted to one challenge: “Just getting back in shape! To do eight shows a week. I’m vocalizing, I’m trying to do my stretching every morning, and Bernadette’s a great inspiration for me because she’s so disciplined and so on point, so I just have to be the best I can possibly be.”
Garber said that compared to television, musical theater “requires a kind of discipline and focus that is sort of wonderful to get back into,” though he’s equally happy with his time in the TV realm. “I loved my job. I loved doing Legends of Tomorrow, I loved all of the TV shows I’ve done in the last [couple of decades]. It’s been a great career for me, so this is like icing on the cake.
“It just feels like an embarrassment of riches, really.”
Garber begins performances in Hello, Dolly! Jan. 20 prior to an official opening on Feb. 22.