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Hello Dolly!

We are all fools.— Horace Vandergelder.
Betty Buckley (Photo by Julieta-Cervantes)
Well, Hello Betty! In a charming performance, Betty Buckley has returned to the stage as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello Dolly! at the Kennedy Center. For more than four decades, this singer/dancer/actor has enchanted audiences. Her take on Dolly is no exception. Based on Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker," with a book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, Dolly is hardly new and that is its attraction. Put your brain into retro mode, sit back and enjoy.

Ok, the story is corny. Dolly Levi, a widow, is a born meddler who knows how to get what she wants. Case in point: Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy but penny-pinching widower who vows that he will never, never marry Dolly -- until the finale! Just one example that Dolly's methods pay off. Whatever she puts her mind to, Dolly succeeds. As does Betty whose voice may not be as strong as it once was, whose soft shoe is, well, soft, but whose acting is perfect for the part of Dolly.

The show moves slowly until the first act finale, "Before the Parade Passes By," which is colorful and thrilling. Gower Champion's choreography as interpreted by Warren Carlyle has a "you are there" feel to it, making the audience feel as though it too has joined the party. Wonderful!

Act Two is by far the better half with the tried-and-true self-explanatory "Elegance." Then comes the evening's highlight that takes us inside the Harmonia Gardens restaurant where the waiters criss-cross the stage holding platters high, clanging skewers, and even sliding down the bannisters with great precision.

Could this scene get any better? It does when Dolly makes her entrance sporting a bright red dress with a massive headdress made from feathers. It's a scene most musical theater fans have seen many times before —with Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, and most recently Bette Midler— and now with enormous grace by Betty Buckley as she descends the staircase, in all her finery. "Again," she says as she leads all the waiters with windmill-like arms across the stage for the second time to a hearty response from the audience.

In another memorable moment, Betty/Dolly, sitting alone downstage right in the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, tucks into a hearty meal of turkey, silent, except for the occasional slurp. Her comic timing is superb.

Other standouts are Mr. Vandergelder's over-worked employees, Nic Rouleau as Cornelius Hackl and, Sean Burns as Barnaby Tucker. Rouleau dances the waltz and polka with style. Burns gives a terrific athletic and speedy performance with remarkably high side kicks that are a pleasure to watch. Excellent too is is Kristen Hahn's ditzy, much put-upon hatmaker's assistant Minnie Fay, love interest of Barnaby Tucker. Old timers such as me remember Lewis J. Stadlen's impersonation of Groucho Marx eons ago. Stadlen is still using some of the same schtick which works well here. What does not work at all is Stadlen's solo "Penny in My Pocket." Why the lyrics were completely lost is not clear: Stadlen's diction? the miking? the Kennedy Center's accoustics?

This production ably directed by Jerry Zaks, spares no expense. It is a delight to look at thanks to Santo Loquasto's scenic and costume designs. There's a light-rimmed proscenium arch surrounding a gold-trimmed red velvet curtain that opens to reveal gravure-like scenes of old New York. The costumes are loaded with flounces and frills, ribbons and feathers for the women, bowler hats, waistcoats and plaid suits for the men in a palette of day-glo pinks, yellows, turquoises, greens, etc. that enhance such an enjoyable evening.

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Hello Dolly!
Book by Michael Stewart
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Sets and Costumes by Santo Loquasto
Choreography by Gower Champion originally; for his production, Warren Carlyle

Cast: Betty Buckley (Dolly Gallagher Levi); Colin LeMoine (Ambrose Kemper); Lewis J. Stadlen (Horace Vandergelder); Morgan Kirner (Ermengarde); Nic Rouleau (Cornelius Hackl); Sean Burns (Barnaby Tucker); Kristen Hahn (Minnie Fay); Analisa Leaming (Irene Molloy); Beth Kirkpatrick (Mrs. Rose); Jessica Sheridan (Ernestina); Wally Dunn (Rudolph); Scott Shedenhelm (Stanley); Timothy Shew (Judge); Daniel Beeman (Court Clerk); Maddy Apple, Daniel Beeman, Giovanni Bonaventura, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Darius Crenshaw, Julian DeGuzman, Alexandra Frohlinger, Dan Horn, Corey Hummerston, Madison Johnson, Beth Kirkpatrick, Ben Lanham, Kyle Samuel, Scott Shedenhelm, Timothy Shew; Maria Cristina Slye, Cassie Austin Taylor, Davis Wayne, Brandon L. Whitmore, Connor Wince (Townspeople, Waiters, etc.) Running time: 2 hour and35 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission. Kennedy Center,; performances from June 4 to July 7, 2019.

Reviewed by Susan Davidson at June 6, 2019 performance.

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