by Beki Pineda
HELLO, DOLLY – Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman; Book by Michael Stewart; Directed by Jerry Zaks. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (at the Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through April 7. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.com.
The Grande Dame of Broadway musicals took the 5:45 to Denver last week and arrived wearing her Sunday clothes and a parade waiting to usher her to the Buell Theatre. Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi herself showed up and was given the respect and devotion that a character of her stature deserves. Dolly was brought to glorious life by Betty Buckley, herself a Broadway grande dame having appeared in seven Broadway and West End productions including her Tony winning role as Grizabella in the original CATS. It was delightful to see the respect and homage paid to Ms. Buckley from the moment she arrived on stage until her final curtain call.
And it was well deserved. She brought a down-to-earth sensibility to the role; she’s a woman that has survived on wit and wisdom and it shows. Her undying optimism and confidence in herself brought a smile to your face and a silent wish that you had her resilience. She has the foresight of a chess master, always jumping ahead three or four moves before anyone else. Her obvious devotion to her long-deceased husband Ephraim does not stop her pursuit of Horace Vandergelder for a little quietude. Her voice while strong also shows the years it has been used. Her dancing is a subdued version of what the younger dancers around her are doing, but I venture to guess that she quietly dreads the long walk down the staircase into the Harmonium Gardens set. However, she kept up with the kids, authentically and sweetly won the affection of Horace, got everyone matched up with the right people, and didn’t let the parade pass her by.
The evening starts with a great old-fashioned overture under the baton of Robert Billig that gives you an appetizer of the melodies to come. The story evolves with her matchmaking efforts on behalf of Horace, given a gruff Jimmy Durante-like performance by Lewis Stadlen. He delightfully tries to ignore Dolly’s charm, but can’t help but laugh at her antics and quietly falls under her spell. She’s also trying to find matches for Cornelius (beautifully sung by Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby (a kickass dancer, Jess LeProtto). They are attracted to Mrs. Irene Malloy (Analisa Leaming) and Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn who has also appeared at the Arvada Center) and together they all head the 12 1/2 miles to Yonkers’ Harmonium Gardens for a night out.The four junior characters absolutely delight with their version of “Elegance.”
And what a night it is! Dolly and company are greeted by Rudolph, the major domo of the restaurant (Wally Dunn) and his corps of singing and dancing waiters in a spectacular number that blends “The Waiters’ Gallop” with the show stopping “Hello, Dolly.” The cleverness of the choreography of the waiters bringing on various dishes for Dolly’s pleasure must be seen to be believed. Dolly sits stage right at her own table eating everything on her plate. I remember an old story read long ago when someone asked Carol Channing what she ate during that scene that allowed her to swallow so quickly and so much. She explained that the crew made food for her out of meringue that just melted when she put it in her mouth. I couldn’t see what Ms. Buckley was eating but she sure shoveled it in.
Thornton Wilder’s original play called “The Matchmaker” has had a glorious musical adaptation and has been going strong for 55 years. Dolly has been played by everyone from Yvonne DeCarlo to Pearl Bailey to Ethel Merman (who turned down the original production) to Danny La Rue (in drag) to the incomparable Carol Channing. This production based on the 2017 Broadway revival starring Bette Midler sparkles like a diamond and brings the joy of a colorful bouquet.
A WOW factor of 9!!