Review: ‘Hello Dolly’ Pays Homage to Musical Theater’s Golden Age

By Lauren Van Hemert

It only takes a moment to fall in love with the Tony Award-winning revival of Hello Dolly. That was my reaction after seeing the show on Broadway last August with Bette Midler, and that is exactly how I feel now having seen the touring production at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

Based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, Hello Dolly opened on Broadway in 1964. That production, which starred Carol Channing, won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Since then, there have been four Broadway revivals, including the critically acclaimed Tony Award-winning 2017 revival starring Midler and David Hyde Pierce.

This time around, Betty Buckley steps into the role of Dolly Levi. Her Dolly is both funny and thoughtful, an interpretation that lends some depth and relevance to Wilder’s age-old tale about a meddling matchmaker. Though this role hardly showcases Buckley’s vocal range or skills (no big Memory moments here), she is undoubtedly Broadway royalty and her Dolly shouldn’t be missed.

To Buckley’s Dolly is Lewis J. Stadlen as the miserly curmudgeon, Horace Vandergelder. Stadlen’s gruff portrayal of this classic character is spot-on, even more so than Pierce’s Tony-nominated performance. He’s more Walter Matthau than Niles Crane, and here, that’s a good thing.

Notable too in this production are Nic Rouleau and Sean Burns who play shop clerks Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker respectively. Both are nimble performers and play off one another effortlessly. Less impressive are Analisa Leaming and Kristen Hahn. Leaming’s portrayal of Irene Malloy is a little too brassy for me and Hahn’s portrayal of Minnie Fay pales in comparison to Burns’ Barnaby and the rest of the ensemble.

The musical numbers, which are both familiar and timeless, sound so grand due in part to an orchestra made up of 20 plus touring and local musicians. Santo Loquasto’s Tony Award-winning costumes and stunning sets add to the splendor of this production, and Warren Carlyle’s choreography is mesmerizing. Carlyle is nominated for a Tony Award this year for the revival of Kiss Me, Kate.

Directing the revival of Hello Dolly was a dream project for director Jerry Zaks, who says he had been enamored with the show since college. And that love for this show comes forth in his staging of this production. It’s a big, beautiful showy show, an unapologetic homage to musical theater’s Golden Age, and a joy-filled treat for all ages.

Hello Dolly runs through Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/hello-dolly.

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