It’s something remarkable when one can truly witness “stardom,” and Cleveland gets to witness Betty Buckley’s jewel of a performance in the national tour of HELLO, DOLLY! The “Voice of Broadway” will grace the Playhouse Square stage now through October 21, 2018 at the Connor Palace, and audiences won’t want to miss this knockout of a production.
With icons like Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Pearl Bailey, Bernadette Peters, and Bette Midler having played the starring role in the past, this touring revival brings us Betty Buckley’s rendition of Dolly Gallagher Levi, matchmaker and busybody extraordinaire.
Buckley arrives on the stage as Dolly in a swirl of costumes and dancing, with every bit of the fearless, powerhouse presence needed for the main role. The legend of stage and screen is effortless, poised, and radiant! And so we meet Dolly – a woman with a knack for everything, and her nose in everyone’s business. And she’s the belle of the ball!
There are several intermingling story lines in this production. It’s 1885 in New York City and Dolly is looking for the perfect match for the Eeyore-ish Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen), but after several tries she realizes that she wants the famous “half millionaire” all to herself. From here we meet Horace’s screechy niece, Ermengarde (Morgan Kirner), who’s in love with the artist Ambrose Kemper (Garett Hawe). Horace does not approve! It turns out that this situation also needs Dolly’s intervention.
Employed in Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed shop in Yonkers are Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby Tucker (Jess LeProtto), two guys out looking for love and
pudding adventure. When Horace leaves them in charge of the shop for the evening, they sneak out to take an unauthorized night off and hit the town – and they hope that each of them might even get to kiss a girl before the journey is over!
Once out on the town, all three of these gentlemen accidentally end up at Irene Molloy’s (Analisa Leaming) Hat Shop, where hilarity ensues. Widowed Irene and naïve shop assistant Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn) find themselves in a bit of a hide-and-seek so that Horace does not discover Cornelius and Barnaby in the shop. After all, Cornelius and Barnaby are supposed to be watching the Hay and Feed store!
Once Horace is gone, Cornelius and Barnaby (who’ve introduced themselves as “rich” gentlemen) con the ladies into a night at an expensive restaurant. Mix Horace and Dolly again into this new setting and it’s a carousel of physical comedy, dancing, and antics. But which characters end up with which partners? That’s the joy of the show, and the magic of Dolly!
The performance is filled with numerous moments that are reminiscent of a classic cartoon comedy, and characters who are over the top.
Rudolph, the head waiter at Harmonia Gardens (played by Wally Dunn), feels like the Mickey Mouse Maestro of Fantasia. However, instead of conjuring up spells, Rudolph is conjuring the supreme performance of his wait staff. There are trays and acrobatics and it’s a fantastic party.
Further in, Dolly has an entire scene where she simply dines on pheasant as some courtroom chaos surrounds her. She plays this off with a cool, nonchalant manner that shows why she’s the divine diva that saves day. These are just a couple of notables: you’ll have to see the show to discover all the rest.
The 1964 musical has lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart. It features plenty of recognizable tunes, such as the tongue-in-cheek “It Takes a Woman,” as well as “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and the title song “Hello, Dolly!”
There is a mixture of zany and touching music to make all moods soar. The orchestra (lead by Conductor Robert Billig) is robust and plays with gusto. The cast vocals rise to occasion, as they sing with competence and spirit. There is something stirring about the score of an “old school” musical that is extra special as it is played today.
THE EXTRA LAYER
Amid the fabulous offerings of the costumes, the hats, the parasols, the beautiful scenery, and the classic dancing (which is gorgeous), there is also a level of potency in the realization that womanhood is still striving to reach equality, even today.
In 1885, women’s suffrage is in full gear, as women don’t have the right to vote (not until 1920). Once enacted, the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” But in Dolly’s world, it’s not quite there yet, and women are caricatures – frail and soft creatures that need to be with a man, who only find fulfillment in housework.
The 1885 ladies of New York are still making their way into equal position, and the characters of Dolly and Irene show the persistence and ingenuity of the female sex. They are strong, independent, and they are showing the world their value.
Songs like “It Takes a Woman” have a significant sense of irony, as the men in the cast expound upon the many “requirements” that make a woman a great wife:
It takes a woman all powdered and pink
To joyously clean out the drain in the sink
And it takes an angel with long golden lashes
And soft dresden fingers
For dumping the ashes…
Yes it takes a woman
A dainty woman
A sweetheart, a mistress, a wife
O yes it takes a woman
A fragile woman
To bring you the sweet things in life…
And so she’ll work until infinity
Three cheers for femininity
Rah Rah Rah, Rah Rah Rah
F. E. M. I. T. Y
As if women were created for the sake of making a man happy, and to do all the chores, this song is presented with a zest, but also a wink. At show’s end, the stage is eclipsed with a large banner stating, “Women’s Rights Pray for Temperance,” and in this day in age, this message is still relevant.
The character of Dolly is a go-getter who knows what she wants, using all of her talents to achieve the goal. With her feisty heart and mature soul, Dolly delivers the happy ending of a classic musical, and Betty Buckley shows the world that real stars don’t fade – they forever sparkle.
Don’t miss HELLO, DOLLY at the Connor Palace now through October 21, 2018. Tickets are $30.00 to $115.00 and can be purchased at www.playhousesquare.org, or by calling 216-241-6000.