Shubert Theatre, New York
Catching up with Hello, Dolly! offers a chance to enjoy Broadway at its glorious, golden best. Bernadette Peters is now playing the titular Dolly Levi – wise, wonderful, but yet weary of her widowhood, the famed fable is all about how Dolly works her way into the life, and ultimately the heart, of local Yonkers merchant, curmudgeonly widower Horace Vandergelder.
The story may be froth and frolics, but underneath the razzle-dazzle of Jerry Herman’s songs and Michael Stewart’s book, there beats a heart-warming tale of simple humanity, which Peters portrays exquisitely. In Gene Kelly’s 1969 Oscar-winning movie, Barbara Streisand, at 27, was a youthful widowed Dolly. Peters today is some years senior in the role, and the life that her Dolly will have experienced adds a beautifully nuanced depth to the story.
Victor Garber captures the Scrooge-like qualities of Vandergelder to a tee and the smiles at his ultimate redemption, in finding love with Levi, is quite simply delightful. Then, of course, there is the sub-plot love story between Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s clerk and society milliner Irene Molloy, while further japes come courtesy of Hackl’s sidekick, Barnaby Tucker.
Santino Fontana and Kate Baldwin turn in assured work as Hackle and Molloy, but for this review, that brings a British eye to New York, it is a delight to see Charlie Stemp make an outstanding Broadway debut as Tucker. In the 1969 movie Michael Crawford was a memorable Huckl and while Stemp may be playing a different character, there is an aura of Crawford’s excellence that permeates his work, manifest in his comedy alongside flawless dance and physical presence.
The songs of course are immortal and Peters commands an adoring house with not only the title number but also a heart-rendingly stirring Before The Parade Passes By, a song that has to be up there as one of the finest Act One closing numbers ever, and yet here, afforded a rarely glimpsed hint of of underlying poignant personal aspirations too. Warren Carlyle’s choreography brings a lavish flair, never finer than in the precise execution of The Waiters Gallop.
It speaks volumes for the warm, inclusive genre of musical theatre that right now, with both Hello, Dolly! on Broadway and the Lulu-led 42nd Street at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, that there are shows playing to full houses and offering spectacular production values, that are both headlined by mature women with world-famous careers behind them. Brava!