New York Magazine

Hello, Tonys!

Broadway’s big bloom of openings before the awards-season cutoff brings greatness and … other things too.
Bette Midler as Dolly Levi.

Hello, Dolly!

SHUBERT THEATRE

THE SHOW CURTAIN now in use for the ecstatic revival of Hello, Dolly! may be the reddest red-red I’ve ever seen. The beaded gown and ostrich-feather headdress Bette Midler wears descending the Harmonia Gardens stairs for the title number radiate the same insanely warm glow. Paying tribute to the look of the 1964 original, then turning the dial all the way to the right, Santo Loquasto (sets and costumes) and Natasha Katz (lighting) create moments, as in the showstopping “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” that make the stage look like what might happen if a rainbow and a silkworm had a simultaneous orgasm.

But the real source of the warmth and color is Midler herself, and the crowd’s feelings for her, which together create a feedback loop so tight that the distinction between star and audience is all but obliterated. Sashaying down the famous passerelle, reaching out with delight if never quite pressing flesh, she not only breaks down the fourth wall but makes you forget why there ever was one.

That brilliant alignment of performer and role is all that really needs to have happened here. Dolly is back where she belongs and so, for her fans, is Midler. Both are intensely nostalgic projects. The production, directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, is as close to homage as a modern show dares get to a work that even in 1964 was something of a throwback. Carlyle’s dances in particular recall the originals by Gower Champion, each with a distinctive, almost peculiar, physical profile. The script, too, is left unmodernized, and when the chorus is needed for backup vocals, it merely shows up, otherwise unmotivated, in the no-excuses ’60s style.

None of that matters. Suffice it to say that in the long line of memorable Dollys I’ve seen or heard—from the alienoid Carol Channing to the louche Pearl Bailey to the enameled Barbra Streisand—Midler is by far the most natural and inviting. I don’t mean that she is playing Dolly

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