I saw Hello, Dolly! a week ago Thursday on my birthday and I’ll admit, at one point it was all such an over-the-top Broadway dream-come-true, that I shed a few tears at the sheer joy of the whole damn thing. Bette Midler in the title role is everything. The staging, costumes, dancing is all top notch but it’s a corny show and you take her out of it and you got a fun night in the theater, but nothing transcendent. Bette makes it next level.
The New York Times,chief theater critic, Ben Brantley agrees, and he gave it such a glowing rave review I have to share some of it…
“The genius of casting Ms. Midler as Dolly, a widow who decides to rejoin life by marrying the rich and curmudgeonly Horace Vandergelder (Mr. Pierce), is that she built her career on making nostalgia hip. Even when she was sassing and strutting for the gay boys at the Continental Baths in her youth (when the original “Hello, Dolly!” was still on the boards), she was channeling entertainers from the days of burlesque.
With Ms. Midler, such hommages were never merely camp. She exuded bone-deep affection and respect for vaudeville stylings, in which impeccably controlled artifice became a conduit for sentimentality as well as rowdy humor. That affinity pervades every aspect of her Dolly, which is less a fluid performance than a series of calculated gestures that somehow coalesce into a seamless personality.
Consider, for starters, her hydraulic walk, made up of short, chugging steps. (A real train materializes for the big ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ number, but Ms. Midler is the real locomotive wonder.) Or her take-charge New Yawk accent, spiced with the insinuating inflections of Sophie Tucker. Or her stylized collapse into exhaustion in the middle of the title song.”
Jerry Zaks excellent direction and staging is all set up to GIVE US Dolly/Bette on a platter, throughout the show. She’s the main course and the audience eats her with a spoon. In fact, Bette herself has an eating moment Brantley describes,
“Ms. Midler not only knows how to make a meal out of a juicy part; she knows how to make a meal out of a meal. In the second act of this exceedingly bright and brassy revival, Ms. Midler can be found sitting alone at a table, slowly and deliberately polishing off the remnants of an expensive dinner, from a turkey bone dipped in gravy to a multitude of dumplings, while the rest of the cast freezes in open-mouthed amazement.
Ms. Midler brings such comic brio — both barn-side broad and needlepoint precise — to the task of playing with her food that I promise you it stops the show. Then again, pretty much everything Ms. Midler does stops the show. As for that much anticipated moment when she puts on fire-engine red plumes and sequins to lead a cakewalk of singing waiters, well, let’s just hope that this show’s producers have earthquake insurance.”
And as for the 70-year old legend’s singing and dancing skills, well…
“Ms. Midler’s talents have never included a conventionally pretty voice. Yet when she rasps out the anthem ‘Before the Parade Passes By,’ you hear her voice as that of a nightingale. And when she hikes up her period skirts to shuffle her feet, she gives the impression she’s dancing up a storm.
She’s not, of course. (Her kicks in her big numbers are only from the knees.) But a great star performance is at least 50 percent illusion, conjured by irresistible will power and cunning. Ms. Midler arranges her component parts with the seductive insistence with which Dolly Levi arranges other people’s lives.
After two acts of fending off Dolly’s charms, Horace finds himself proclaiming, in happy defeat, ‘Wonderful woman!’ Nobody is about to argue with him.”
(Photos, Sara Krulwich; via The New York Times)