Bette Midler. That name is enough to convince legions of fans to open their wallets, as evidenced by the reported $40 million in advance sales to the Midler-led Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! at the Shubert Theatre. For devotees of the Divine Miss M, it really won't matter what the critics say: They are not going to miss a chance to see Midler sing on Broadway for this first time in 37 years (her 2013 appearance in I'll Eat You Last was nonmusical). It just so happens, though, that Midler is dishing out comic gold in a joyful return that will evoke your memory on why you fell in love with Broadway in the first place.
Tony, Emmy, Golden Globe and Grammy Award winner Bette Midler (Fiddler on the Roof, The First Wives Club) returns to the stage of Broadway in one of the biggest musicals of all time - Hello, Dolly! Starring with David Hyde Pierce, Ms. Midler leads the return of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart's magnificent comedy as the impressive matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, following in the steps of Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, and one Barbra Streisand. Breaking with golden age musical charm, Hello, Dolly! is a fantastic slice of entertainment, and includes innumerable classic Broadway showstoppers, such as 'It Only Takes A Moment' and 'Put On Your Sunday Clothes.'
Based on Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, Hello, Dolly! is the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi (Midler), an enterprising widow making her way in New York City circa 1885. Among her many consulting gigs, she is currently brokering the match between Lady milliner Irene Molloy (Kate Baldwin) and Yonkers-based animal feed merchant and half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce). Or so it would seem: Dolly actually plans to wed Horace herself so she can spread his money around like manure. She'll have to make it seem like it was his idea first, though. The show first aired on Broadway in 1964, starring Carol Channing in the eponymous role. A storming achievement, it won a unique 10 Tonys at that year's ceremony and was accustomed for the big screen five years later, starring Barbra Streisand and a young Michael Crawford. This 2017 revival is directed by four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks (Sister Act) and is nominated for a 10 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical.
Under the direction of Jerry Zaks, Dolly is as appealing and enchanting as ever. Jerry Herman's hit-parade score will adhere with you for weeks. Under the steady baton of Andy Einhorn, a rich-sounding 22-piece band plays Larry Hochman's Radiant new orchestrations. Meanwhile, the cast brings pristine comic timing to Michael Stewart's hilarious book. Warren Carlyle takes the best parts of Gower Champion's original choreography and adds some tricks of his own. Your jaw will no doubt hit the floor during "The Waiters' Gallop," in which the men of the ensemble make it look like there are hundreds of dancing waiters onstage (there are 10).
Zaks gives this cast a candy-coated world as bright and delectable as their performances. Zaks and Carlyle naturally take advantage of this in their animated staging, which has actors popping out of barrels and disappearing behind a grand staircase. While the production numbers are extraordinary, some of the most memorable songs happen downstage of the elaborately embroidered red curtain: It's just the performer and the audience, evoking a vaudeville sensibility that all-too-often feels absent from Broadway.
Midler does that too. She is a showgirl of the highest order who recognizes every performance as a live event, never to be repeated. She embraces the audience and the energy it brings with a giant bear hug. That makes this revival of Dolly a rare experience that even the most jaded theater-goer will have trouble resisting. What can we say but, "Hello, Bette! It's so great to have you back where you belong."