Well, this is it. It’s what we’ve been waiting for all season: Bette Midler starring in a lavish Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!” -- with David Hyde Pierce thrown in for good measure. Need I go on? Is there anyone who doesn’t see that this is a match made in musical comedy heaven?
Midler has not appeared in a Broadway musical since she played one of the daughters in the original “Fiddler on the Roof,” nearly a half century ago. She did do a television adaptation of “Gypsy” and has, of course, headlined countless stage extravaganzas and concerts.
With her broad and brassy comic personality, star presence and underlying tenderness, Midler is ideal to inherit the sacred mantle of Dolly Gallagher Levi from actress Carol Channing, who starred in the original 1964 production and played the role for decades. (The problematic film version with Barbra Streisand is best left forgotten.)
Midler still appears to be adjusting to the role, looking and sounding tentative at times. But more often than not, she eagerly commands the stage and keeps the audience (which receives her direct attention in bits of narration) in a state of euphoria, which is more than appropriate since the plot of “Hello, Dolly!” is essentially about finding joy in life.
At a recent performance, a Chanel handbag fell from the mezzanine into an audience member’s lap. It was probably an accident, but this really is the sort of show that can leave people so giddy that they’ll start bouncing around and maybe even throwing stuff into the air.
The production (directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Warren Carlyle) lovingly recreates the look and feel of Gower Champion’s iconic 1964 production, bursting at the seams with old-fashioned showmanship, hyperkinetic energy and stylized movement.
Jerry Herman’s songs (“Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” the title song) are as glorious and catchy as ever, and Michael Stewart’s farcical book still brings in a great deal of fun.
Pierce (as the grouchy miser Horace) throws himself into the show with an exaggerated spirit, and the secondary romantic leads are nicely filled by Broadway regulars Gavin Creel (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”) and Kate Baldwin (“Finian’s Rainbow”).
Beginning in June, Donna Murphy (“Wonderful Town”) will play Dolly once a week, and I’m willing to bet that she will be fabulous. And if the revival keeps going after Midler’s contract expires, can you imagine who else could play Dolly? From Queen Latifah to Patti LuPone, the possibilities are tantalizing.