Hello Dolly! is a grand dame of Ameirican Musical Theater.The Pittsburgh CLO has the touring production with Betty Buckley as the meddling matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi at the Benedum Center through August 11. It is the last show of the CLO’s summer series.
Some musicals are a hit right away and don’t need much tinkering. Others, like Hello Dolly!, have a longer road. Hello Dolly!’s origins go back to Thorton Wilder’s 1938 comedy, The Merchant of Yonkers. He adapted it from an earlier English play, A Day Well Spent. It didn’t do very well so Wilder revised it in 1955 and gave it a new name, The Matchmaker. The play was then a hit.
Legendary producer David Merrick brought the show to Broadway in 1964, but not before a few hiccups of his own. The role of Dolly was written for Ethel Merman, but she turned it down. Mary Martin passed on it too. Noted directors Hal Prince and Jerome Robbins both turned down Merrick’s request to be involved with the show. Merrick called the production, Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman then Call on Dolly before hearing Louis Armstrong’s recording of a promo version of the “Hello Dolly!” song of the show and changed the name. Armstrong’s song actually knocked The Beatles off of the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1964. Merrick tweaked the show after test runs in Detroit, Michigan, and Washington, D.C
Carol Channing opened as Dolly in the 1964 production, with it becoming her signature role. Hello Dolly! would win an amazing 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical that year. There was a movie version starring Barbra Streisand in 1969. There have also been four Broadway revivals, one in 2017 featured Bette Midler in the title role. That revival won four Tonys and a Grammy. The touring version is part of that revival and is the one visiting Pittsburgh with Buckley as Dolly and Lewis J. Stadlen as the miserly and miserabile half-millionaire and widower, Horace Vandergelder.
Hello Dolly! in Pittsburgh
I attended the opening performance Tuesday night. It was a lively and packed house. Betty Buckley is a veteran actress having played diverse roles from the gym teacher in the movie Carrie, second wife of Dick Van Patten’s character in the ABC TV show “Eight is Enough,” and as Grizabella in the original Broadway production of the musical Cats. She has many theater, film, and TV credits and won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in Cats. Buckley played Dolly magnificently in this performance making her mark on the role as did her big name predecessors.
The Dolly character is so deep, charismatic, and deliciously devious. She has more business cards with different lines of work on them than even Jim Rockford, and can produce them at a moments notice when needed. However she is growing tired of all her scheming and hard work and has set her sights on marrying the owner of Yonkers Hay and Feed, Horace Vandergelder. She comes up with a hilarious scheme to encourage Vandergelder to marry her and provide her with a more comfortable life. Dolly also encourages true love when she sees it, after all she had a very happy marriage to her late husband Ephram.
Buckley was especially memorable in how she acted the role in a fun, mischievous manner. A very touching moment was in her singing of the melancholy, but also uplifting song, “Before the Parade Passes By.” Another was in the “Hello Dolly!” song and dance number. Dolly makes a dramatic entrance in that scene from atop a grand staircase wearing an elegant dress. It was fantastic to see the well known song come alive in the restaurant scene. It’s a beautiful song. Buckley did well in the vocal parts of the role.
Lewis J. Stadlen in the role of Horace Vandergelder was also first-rate. He portrayed Vandergelder’s “crotchetiness” with a good display of humor. From forbidding his daughter Ermengarde (Morgan Kirner) from seeing her beau, struggling artist Ambrose Kemper (Colin LeMoine) because he’s poor, to “promoting” one of his employees, Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau) to chief clerk with the same pay and still no days off. He was very good in his featured songs as well including the recipe for business success, “Penny in My Pocket.” His singing voice is somewhat reminiscent of Jimmy Durante. Stadlen has numerous theater and film credits and two Tony nominations. He was also on the cast of the first season of ABC’s “Benson.”
The interactions between Buckley and Stadlen are fun to witness as they both play off of one another so well. It’s comical to see Dolly trying to trick Vandergelder to point in the same direction toward proposing marriage to her.
The rest of the cast is very talented as well. This is especially evident in a scene that takes place in Irene Molloy’s (Analisa Leaming) millinery shop. Several scenes and plot lines have built up to the “Motherhood” scene. Hackl and his assistant, Barnaby Tucker (Sean Burns), are both AWOL from Yonkers Hay and Feed. They are hiding out from their boss, Vandergelder, who has just come into the store from waiting for Dolly outside. Dolly enters too. Vandergelder is engaged to marry Molloy who Dolly had introduced to him. The impending marriage will go bust if Vandergelder finds a man or men hiding out in the shop. And he has just brought Malloy a present. A box of chocolate covered peanuts, as he says, the good kind—unshelled. Dolly, Malloy, and Malloy’s assistant, Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn) do their level best to keep the two men hidden from their boss. The comedic timing and movements of this scene are fantastic as is the singing. Ernistina Money (Jessica Sheridan) provided some hilarious moments in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant scenes as Dolly’s newest match for Vandergelder.
Leaming has a nice solo in the number “Ribbons Down My Back.” Rouleau also shined in “It Only Takes a Moment.” Wally Dunn (Rudolph, waitstaff captain) and his fellow ensemble did a fantastic song and dance scene in “The Waiters Gallop.” Dancing waiters moved in rapid fire fashion through the scene while playing covered silver platters like cymbals and even passing a chicken onto a skewer between two waiters. A cook balanced a huge stack of dishes while running through the restaurant. It’s a large cast and ensemble, too numerous to mention, everyone played their part well.
While those are some of the scenes that I’m highlighting, every scene had something to offer. The period costumes were beautiful and colorful. The sets were visually interesting too. There was even a train and a “horse”-drawn trolley. The music worked well in unison with the scene being played. The comedy was often times accentuated by certain musical notes. The Pittsburgh CLO Orchestra received a sustained round of applause at the end.
Hello Dolly! Is a glowing, timeless musical comedy. All theatrical elements worked seamlessly together to make it a night of fun for all. And we can always use that!
Hello Dolly! has lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. The production staff includes: Jerry Zaks (Director), Warren Carlyle (Choreography), Santo Loquasto (Scene and Costume Master), Nataha Katz (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Larry Hochman (Orchestrations), and Robert Billig (Music Director/Conductor).
For tickets and more information visit Pittsburgh CLO on the web or call (412) 456-6666.
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.