For me, one of the high points of 2017 was Bette Midler’s 4.5-minute Tony Awards acceptance speech where she was determined to get every last “thank you” in, and defying the play-off music. Winning Best Performance of an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Midler reveled in her time onstage
I love watching the Tony Awards, but I will always remember 2017 as the year Kevin Spacey hosted and mockingly, winkingly came out of the closet. It was his final appearance on an awards broadcast.
Midler started her acceptance speech with:
“I am so privileged, I am so honored to receive this from you all tonight,” the Hello, Dolly! I hope I don’t cry. I have so many people I’d like to thank.”
Then she rattled off a long list of fellow actors, mentors and showbiz types including her makeup artist, agent, and Carol Channing, the original star of Hello, Dolly!.
At one point however, the play-off music started up, urging her to wrap up her 1.25 minute allowed speech, but Midler kept going, overpowering the orchestra and quipping:
“Shut that crap off!”
The audience roared with laughter.
Midler continued with:
“I just want to say that revival is an interesting word. It means that something is near death and it’s been brought back to life. Hello, Dolly! never really went away. It has been here all along. It’s in our DNA. It’s optimism, it’s democracy, it’s color, it’s love of life. It’s hilarity. This is a classic. Come and see it. It’s not just me! This has the ability to life your spirits in these terrible, terrible times.”
Offstage, Midler continued her speech in the press room, apologizing for all the names she had somehow missed during her speech.
Later that night, she tweeted:
“In all the pandemonium tonight I neglected to thank the brilliant ensemble of Hello Dolly!, whom I adore. Please forgive me kids! I’m old!”
Midler returned to Broadway in the revival of Jerry Herman’s much loved 1964 musical beginning in April. It won four 2017 Tony Awards. Twice a week, glamorous Donna Murphy stepped in for Midler. In two weeks, Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters will be taking over the role.
The original production and tour featured a long line of amazing women, and a couple of guys, playing Dolly Levi: Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Ethel Merman (for whom it was written), and Mary Martin. There was also Ruth Gordon on Broadway in the source material, Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, and Shirley Booth in the film version of the play; and of course, Barbra Streisand in the film version of the musical.
After Bernadette Peter’s steps out of the role, I’d like to see another lengthy list of actors playing Dolly Levi in the current revival. It could run for years; the original lasted seven Broadway seasons, playing when Cabaret, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar were on Broadway. How about Sarah Silverman, Sandra Bernhard, Glenn Close, Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone, Twiggy, Cher and Kevin Spacey? Oprah? How about Streisand? Eventually, it could become like the revival of Chicago and Scott Rudin could plug-in models and television stars for short runs: Mariska Hargitey, Kerry Washington, Kate Moss?