April 30, 2017
Looking sleek and full of a joyful self-confidence, Bette Midler strides onto the stage and in the arms of her audience. Met by cheers when she first appears, the howls of approval explode when she dons the sequenced red dress and glides down the steps to the strains of “Hello Dolly.” And of course, at the end, the audience is up before the last word evaporates in the tornado of affection.
A bubbly widow with a habit of meddling, Dolly – Bette Midler, is –for want of a better word—the neighborhood yenta. She trades in making marriage deals, and actually, anything else that will bring in a coin or two.
The trouble starts when Dolly tries to join an artist to the daughter of the wealthy Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pearce), the wealthy Hay and Feed Store owner in Yonkers.
Meanwhile, the two trusty workers, Cornelius (Gavin Creel) and Barnaby (Taylor Trensch) are itching to get out of the store and live a little. In a combustible circle of events—ecstatically choreographed by Warren Carlyle -- Vandergelder’s workers liberate funds from the cash register and race to the city. Now Horace is also gussied up and headed for the city to propose to Mrs. Molloy, the marvelous, clear-voiced Kate Baldwin. In a twist that never stops giving, Dolly throws a wrench in Horace’s rendezvous while the two young men land smack dab in the middle of Mrs. Molloy’s millinery shop.
Everyone behaves as if they are in a constant state of amorous springtime agitation. Dolly – constantly speaking to her poor deceased husband—confesses that she wants to settle down—preferably in the lap of luxury—and sees Horace as her ticket to the gilded altar.
The animated pit orchestra juices up all the marvelously hummable Jerry Herman songs (and I should say singable since a number of audience members confused the theater with a Karaoke club) while Carlyle tosses ballet, jazz, social and modern dance routines challenging the expert corps.
Invariably, when a director – in this case Jerry Zaks—and a choreographer, Carlyle, forges a symbiotic relationship, the result can be sheer joy. Zaks excites pitch-perfect performances from his cracker-jack cast while Carlyle tosses in odd twists to reformat well-worn ballet steps, jazz combinations and acrobatic swirls.
And at the center of it all is Dolly.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis