Bette Midler proves she's still glowin' - Hello, Dolly! Shubert Theatre, New York, review

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Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! at New York's Shubert Theatre
Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! at New York's Shubert Theatre Credit: Julieta Cervantes

If any musical deserves an exclamation mark, it’s this triumphant revival of Hello, Dolly! That it affords 71-year-old Bette Midler the chance to sing on Broadway for the first time in almost 40 years (and more than likely win a Tony Award come June) would be enough. But it’s also the first production of this ebullient 1964 musical on the Great White Way in a generation, and the opportunity to hear the infectious Jerry Herman score and see the splendor of original choreographer Gower Champion’s work is further cause for celebration.

For a saucy chanteuse, Midler fits surprisingly well into this old-fashioned musical comedy, set in 1880s New York and adapted by composer-lyricist Herman and writer Michael Stewart from the Thornton Wilder play The Matchmaker. Although she doesn’t exactly lose herself in the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, the Divine Miss M turns her into a Bette-Dolly hybrid, an alluring, fast-talking, consummate charmer.

David Hyde Pierce and Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Midler makes the effort of doing seven shows a week look effortless. (When an eighth show is added in June, Donna Murphy will play the role on Tuesdays.) And she commands the stage. It’s hard to take your eyes off her, whether Dolly is trading quips with David Hyde Pierce’s humorously stodgy Horace Vandergelder, the widowed “half-a-millionaire” that the professional matchmaker is determined to wed herself; belting out Before the Parade Passes By to end the first act; chowing down on a drumstick; or searching for a sign from her late husband that she’s doing the right thing.

But director Jerry Zaks’s production is more than just The Bette Midler Show. Among the supporting cast standouts are Book of Mormon Olivier Award winner Gavin Creel and Taylor Trensch as Horace’s disgruntled employees, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, who get their own shots at love when they end up in the hat shop of Kate Baldwin’s Irene Molloy and Beanie Feldstein’s Minnie Fay.

Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! Credit: Julieta Cervantes

This is the sort of joyous show that reminds you why you first fell in love with musical theatre. Although some of the humor in Stewart’s book is past its sell-by date, Herman’s score abounds with catchy songs about bouncing back and falling in love: the buoyant Put on Your Sunday Clothes; Creel and Baldwin’s blissful It Only Takes a Moment; and the title song, in which Midler dances with a coterie of waiters welcoming her back to her old haunt.

It’s also a feast for the eyes: choreographer Warren Carlyle re-creating Champion’s lively steps, Midler decked out in red from head to toe or the ensemble clad in their blindingly bright Sunday best. Santo Loquasto designed both costumes and sets, which include simply drawn backdrops of old New York, with an eye toward sugar-coated nostalgia.

Nostalgia is, of course, a large part of the appeal here. “You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’, you’re still goin’ strong,” the waiters sing to Dolly. It’s a sentiment that applies wholeheartedly to Midler as well.

Until Jan 14; hellodollyonbroadway.com

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