One of the hottest tickets on Broadway two seasons ago was Jerry Zaks’ Tony Award-winning revival of “Hello, Dolly,” starring Bette Midler. I was fortunate to catch a matinee one summer Sunday.
To say that production was stunning is an understatement. Of course, Midler was the main draw for theater aficionados and tourists alike—receiving thunderous applause upon her entrance that lasted minutes—but the A-list cast also included Tony winners David Hyde Pierce and Gavin Creel. Santo Loquasto’s costumes were stunning and his sets transported audiences to turn-of-the-century New York. Warren Carlyle’s choreography was dazzling, especially during the Harmonia Gardens dinner scene. And, of course Jerry Herman’s score remained as tuneful as ever.
So, when a national tour was announced with Tony Winner Betty Buckley (“Cats”) in the starring role, I wondered if that production would deliver the same magic that had thrilled tens of thousands for 500 performances. (Sometimes touring productions are dramatically scaled back for logistical or budgetary reasons.)
Last week at the Arsht Center, that question was answered with a resounding, “Yes!” In virtually every way, the touring production did deliver that Broadway experience—the costumes, the sets, a full pit orchestra with brass and strings (a rarity these days) and heartfelt and energetic performances.
But, there was a big difference. Betty Buckley is no Bette Midler. Instead, the Broadway vet took the role and made it her own, just as Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Pearl Bailey, Bernadette Peters and a long list of actresses had since the show’s 1964 debut.
Beyond equally impressive musical performances, Midler’s “Dolly” was bawdy and bold while Buckley’s “Dolly” is vulnerable and sentimental, reminiscent of her iconic performance as Grizabella in “Cats.” From time to time, a quiver cracked in the 71-year-old voice, punctuating Dolly’s insecurities, especially as she bids adieu to her departed husband “Before the Parade Passes By.”
The most memorable moment in the performance was unplanned. Buckley tripped on her shoelace and stopped, “Sorry, people....this has never happened before...are you enjoying the show?” All while bent over trying to tie her shoe through her layers of clothing. Her delivery was confident and perfectly delivered, earning more applause from the audience.
The biggest ovation, however, erupted for the show’s title number, when Buckley emerged at the top of the staircase in a breathtaking red lace and rhinestone bedazzled gown and topped with a dramatic feathered headdress. That was truly a memorable moment in a production that equals its Broadway counterpart in every way.
South Florida audiences will have another chance to see Betty Buckley in “Hello, Dolly!” when the show comes to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Dec. 11 – 16. Tickets start at $28 at Kravis.org.