1 year ago


16 HELLO DOLLY! Shubert

16 HELLO DOLLY! Shubert Theatre, New York Comparisons, pardon the expression, are odious. But sometimes they’re inevitable. Take, for example, Hello Dolly! I was fortunate enough to see the original Broadway production with the unique Carol Channing in 1965, and a few years later the all-black version with the coolly insinuating Pearl Bailey. Both ladies were great but couldn’t have been more different. At Drury Lane I saw a woefully miscast Mary Martin followed by a ditzy Dora Bryan. Then, in 1969 came the lavish screen version with Barbra Streisand who was vocally sensational but far too young. When Channing finally vacated the role, the iconic red dress she wore at the plush Harmonia Gardens Restaurant became the property of a galaxy of stars that also included Ethel Merman, Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable and Phyliss Diller. Now, 53 years since its New York opening, Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s perennial crowd-pleaser has been reincarnated as a massive showcase for Bette Midler whose Dolly has deservedly won almost unanimous critical acclaim and whose entrance received the loudest, most sustained reception I have heard in a lifetime of theatre going on either side of the Atlantic. As the whoops and shrieks reached a deafening crescendo, it occurred to me just how much New York adulates an international mega star. Glenn Close, currently starring as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, has also been warmly embraced on Broadway this season, but she’s played the role before and her hysteria quotient isn’t in the same ballpark as Midler’s. It will be interesting to see who’ll eventually replace the divine Bette when she decides enough is enough. Dolly Parton (as rumour has it)? Though the voice is frayed at the edges and doesn’t always do justice to Herman’s earworm of a score, Midler’s beguiling, manipulative way with an all too eager audience, her immaculate comic timing and the knack she has of making you feel she’s talking directly to you, personally, is irresistible. She’s certainly the most persuasive Dolly I’ve seen. Photo: Julieta Cervantes Particularly moving are her intimate asides to her late husband Ephrahim Levi. They come straight from the heart and you believe every word. There’s stalwart support from David Hyde Pierce who, against all expectations, sheds the prissy demeanour he created for the role of Niles in TV’s long-running series Frasier, turning the hay and seed merchant Horace Vandergelder, Yonkers’ bestknown half a millionaire on whom Dolly has set her matrimonial sites, into far less of a curmudgeon than usual. As Vandergelder’s two young assistants on a quest for adventure, there are delightful performances from a full-throated Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl and Taylor Trensch as Barnaby, while as the widowed miIliner Irene Molloy with whom Cornelius falls instantly in love, Kate Baldwin is positively radiant. My enjoyment of this handsome revival, however, with its nostalgically evocative sets and gorgeously colourful costumes by Santo Loquasto, was not unconditional. Relentlessly directed by Jerry Zaks to within an inch of its life, and with a precision verging on the robotic, the production, on occasion, is so tightly wound it’s in danger of having the life squeezed out of it. Certain scenes, especially the one in Irene Molloy’s hat shop over eggs the farcical goings-on by exaggerating every gesture and contorting every facial expression to the point of exhaustion. Warren Carlyle’s choreography shines but does not outshine Gower Champion’s original staging and is perfectly serviceable in numbers like Put On Your Sunday Clothes and Elegance, but the fabulous Waiter’s Gallop – one of the most memorable dance routines I have ever seen on a Broadway stage – lacks the wow factor of the original and feels underpopulated. But it really doesn’t matter. In the end it is Midler’s star wattage that sets her fans aglow and seduces them into paying hundreds of dollars for the sheer experience of her presence. Right now no diva on Broadway twinkles so brightly. CLIVE HIRSCHHORN t h i s i s l o n d o n m a g a z i n e • t h i s i s l o n d o n o n l i n e

Photos: Brinkhoff & Moegenburg. 42ND STREET Way back in 1932, Depression-weary moviegoers had overdosed on a lethal cocktail of mindless musicals that existed for no reason other than to take advantage of the relatively recent arrival of sound. By 1933 most Hollywood studios imposed a moratorium on the genre, ruthlessly excising all or most of the songs from those still in production. At Warner Bros., however, head honcho Daryl F Zanuck was persuaded to have one last crack at a musical. The result was 42nd Street. The film was a humongous hit and overnight revolutionised the movie musical and brought it back into vogue. There is nothing revolutionary, however, about the 1980 stage version adapted by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble from Bradford Ropes’ novel and (uncredited in the programme) the screenplay by Rian James and James Seymour. With an augmented score by the great (and under-appreciated) Harry Warren and a clutch of politically incorrect lyrics by Al Dubin, the spirit of the film’s original choreographer – the legendary Busby Berkeley also not credited in the programme – looms large in this absolutely sensational revival. This is vintage Broadway glitz and pazazz on a scale rarely encountered in today’s more probing content-driven musicals. And for lovers of unfashionable tap, a guilty pleasure from the moment Drury Lane’s imposing red velvet curtain rises till it falls to deservedly frenzied applause. The backstage story could not be more familiar and is dispensed with on the back of a postcard: unknown chorus girl Peggy Sawyer lands the leading role in a new Broadway musical called Pretty Lady when the show’s leading lady, Dorothy Brock, breaks her ankle. Peggy famously goes out a ‘youngster’ and comes back ‘a star’. Top billed Sheena Easton, still in commanding voice, is the impossibly demanding diva Brock, and Claire Halse the fleet-footed ingenue who nimbly taps her way from obscurity to fame. Helping Peggy in her quest for stardom is Julian Marsh, Pretty Lady’s long-suffering director, excellently played and sung by Tom Lister, and the show’s smitten tenor Billy (Stuart Neal) as well as an ensemble of supportive chorus boys and girls, notably Emma Caffrey as Anna and Billie Kay as Diane.There’s terrific support, too, from the hearty Jasna Ivir and Christopher Howell as the show’s composers. Of course you’ve seen it all before – many times. But, as directed by Mark Bramble with such non-stop unalloyed panache and energetically choreographed by Randy Skinner with good old-fashioned Broadway knowhow, this is one musical that could have danced all night – and does. Apart from the mood-setting opening number, particularly eye-catching is Stay Young and Beautiful in which the inventive use of an overhanging mirror helps recreate one of those kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley images which became his trademark. We’re in the Money – one of the most endemic of all Depression songs – is another show-stopper, as is the sumptuous finale (to the tune of 42nd Steer) in which the full chorus, glitteringly costumed by Karen Short, who has excelled herself, walk down a Ziegfeld-like staircase festooned with golden light-bulbs. Indeed, all the sets by Douglas W. Schmidt are an extravagant eyeful. Clearly no expense (or talent) has been spared in the mounting of this rapturous, blissful monument to the golden age of both the Hollywood and the Broadway musical. It deserves to run forever. CLIVE HIRSCHHORN 17 t h i s i s l o n d o n m a g a z i n e • t h i s i s l o n d o n o n l i n e

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