Midler Photo Credit:
By Eugene Paul
she’s back where she belongs, that sassy, brassy, inimitable force of good
natured Dolly Levi and I hope she never goes away again, only this time she’s
Bette Midler who used to be known as the Divine Miss M but now bids fair to
eclipse all the Dollys of the world. A sweet faced lady in my aisle couldn’t
resist sharing with me that she had seen Carol Channing as Dolly back in 1964
and beamed and beamed. “So did I”, said I. The packed, warm, friendly house
racketed with conversations. Everybody was old friends of Dollys, even the new
ones. Even when Danny La Rue was Dolly in London and that’s really stretching
it. But --you just couldn’t help it. She grows on you. No, not like a fungus,
don’t be mean. Dolly is certainly not mean. She’s generous. To a fault. Why
are we going on like this?
is one of the greatest iconic figures of the theatre, rivaling Hamlet for
sheer, swanning authority, and far more pungent in her charms, although Hamlet
is the peer of revivals in puissance and plenitude but Hamlet does not have
Jerry Herman’s songs so goodbye to you, dear Prince, and all hail to the
current Queen of 19th century Yonkers, Dolly Levi, soon to be Mrs.
Vandergelder. Yes, the Widder Levi, still haunted by her dear, departed
husband, Ephraim, is getting a mite peaked remaining buoyant being a meddler, a
matchmaker, a dancing instructor, a counselor at law, whatever it says on those
little cards she keeps dispensing from her amazingly capacious reticule. What
she really needs is to be married to that grump of a widower, Horace
Vandergelder, (hilariously grousing David Hyde Pierce) the half-millionaire,
sole proprietor of the Hay and Feed store in Yonkers. Who wants to get married
again but not to Dolly. He thinks. Ha! Dolly knows better.
Trensch, Bette, Gavin Creel
matchmaker Dolly sets him up down in New York City with the beautiful young
widow Irene Malloy (utterly fetching Kate Baldwin), who owns a hat shop, but
Irene is a romantic and Horace sure as shootin’ isn’t. He orders his clerks,
young Cornelius (charming Gavin Creel) and Barnaby (bumptious Taylor Trensch)
to mind the store real sharp while he’s away in the big city. Ha! Again. These
young fellers are not going to pass up an opportunity to visit the city
themselves while the cat’s away. They’ve never been. Barnaby has saved up
ninety cents from the pittance that Vandegelder pays them. Can they go to New
York and get to kiss a girl for the first time ever and have fun on that?
in Michael Stewart’s sturdy book based on Thornton Wilder’s original farce,
they can. (Well, not exactly original. You see, back in 1835 there was this
German playwright who took a play from an English – never mind.) And yes, they
can, with the simply wonderful musical score that the great Jerry Herman gifted
Broadway and the world they certainly can, and positively in this rambunctious
roustabout of a directing that director Jerry Zaks lavishes on the current
go-around. And choreographer Warren Carlyle’s zippy updates of Gower Champion’s
original choreography…And those story book Santo LoQuasto sets… And those
storied Natasha Katz costumes… And Andy Einhorn’s meticulous musical
meanwhile, has managed to steer Horace down to her old, beloved courting
ground, the Harmonia Gardens with its famous dancing waiters, and, by happy
coincidence, everybody else – it’s a farce, remember – which includes adorable
Minnie Fay (adorable Beanie Feldstein) Irene’s shop assistant, who gobsmacks
Barnaby as Irene gobsmacks Cornelius when they get to Irene’s millinery shop (
don’t you dare ask why) and have to hide when Horace, their boss, turns up
there as he’s supposed to, but all suspicious as to what is going on, those two
terrified clerks hiding in the shop in the darnedest places and ways. You gotta
has also arranged to have Horace meet a substitute matchable at the Harmonia
Gardens in case Widow Malloy doesn’t work out which she’s sure will happen and
it does and the new matchable is a bust, too, wouldn’t you know, and who is
there but Dolly, available Dolly. But first – but first – and possibly last
–Dolly, in her red, sparkly gown and her crowning glory of waving red plumes
comes sashaying down the Harmonia Gardens staircase as host Rudolph (Kevin
Ligon) and adoring mob of dancing waiters – wow, do they dance, chefs, too –
greet her with the anthem that gives the show its famed name, “Hello, Dolly”.
If you listen hard, half the audience is singing, too.
how many showbiz gowns get to end up in the Smithsonian, like Dolly’s? Yes.
It’s there. Next time you go… And how many shows end up becoming beloved old
friends, better than new? Dolly. And how many Dollys like this Dolly? None.
Get her while she’s hot. The line forms here.
At the Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th Street at Shubert Allley.
Check availability. 212-239-6200. Donna Murphy as Dolly on Tuesdays after June
27. Open run.