Hello Dolly! is goin' strong at Chicago's Oriental Theatre

Hello Dolly! is goin' strong at Chicago's Oriental Theatre
Hello Dolly! Chicago. Photo: Carole Kuhrt Brewer

If you haven't already heard, this "Hello Dolly!" starring Betty Buckley at Chicago's Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph) is something special.

There have been a lot of Dollys since Carol Channing brought the story of "Hello Dolly!"--based on Thornton Wilder's 1954 play "The Matchmaker" (about a 19th-century widow who arranges lives for a living)--to life on Broadway in 1964.

Since then the coveted role of Dolly Gallagher Levi has been performed by a who's who of Broadway stars and famous personalities including Pearl Bailey, Ginger Rogers, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Phyllis Diller, Barbra Streisand (in the 1969 film adaptation) and more leading up to the 2017 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival led by Bette Midler (and then Bernadette Peters).

There's even a Pinterest feed, "From Carol to Bette and Beyond" with 2.6 million followers and growing devoted to the Dollys.

Each Dolly puts their own stamp on the role. Now veteran actress Betty Buckley has taken the show on the road (along with her three dogs--who do not appear in the show) for a National tour. Buckley, who's starred in a host of blockbuster Broadway musicals, is probably best known for her role as the original Grizabella in the Broadway production of "Cats" and on television as the mom in "Eight is Enough."

She slips seamlessly into the Dolly role bringing a thoughtfulness and deep understanding to the larger-than-life Dolly by creating a multi-dimensional character capturing Dolly's vulnerability, humanity and humor.  

Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Who would think this old-fashioned show (depicting life in 1865 Yonkers and New York) would still fly with today's sophisticated audiences and get even better.

The revival led by director Jerry Zaks walked away with four Tonys at this year's awards ceremony and has become  a universally acclaimed smash hit that NPR calls “the best show of the year!” and Rolling Stone calls “a must-see event."

The beloved feel-good story seems to be able to overcome obstacles that have sunk other revivals. While many shows are criticized for being dated or anti-feminist this show gets away with lyrics like "It takes a woman all powdered and pink" followed by "To joyously clean out the drain in the sink" without missing a beat.

The show resonates with the audience on many levels and it works for a variety of reasons.

First because of Dolly, herself.  Second, the show has an amazing creative team, choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle, four-time Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto (Scenic & Costume Design), six-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), Tony Award winner Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Andy Einhorn (Music Direction), Tony Award winner Larry Hochman (Orchestrations), Tony Award winner Don Pippin (Vocal Arrangements) and David Chase (Dance Arrangements).

Third, in addition to Buckley, the show has a dynamic cast starting with Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder who really turns out to be the perfect match for the matchmaker Dolly.

Then there's Horace's head clerk Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau) and his sidekick Barnaby (Jess LeProtto) who make for a delightful duo as "They Put on their Sunday Clothes" and head to the Big Apple where they meet the millinery  shop owner Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming) and her giddy assistant Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn)--all four adding comedic high jinks and some amazing song and dance routines to the mix.

And, of course, there'd be no "Hello Dolly!" without the dynamic music and lyrics of Jerry Herman and the vision of famed choreographer and dancer Gower Champion--a major figure on the Broadway musical stage and director of "Hello Dolly!" --who sadly died on opening night of the show.

Betty Buckley. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Betty Buckley. Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

Among the many special moments in the show is the dazzling "Waiters' Gallop," that brings the house down in the second act. Another showstopper is when Buckley descends the staircase  at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, holding her head up high in her striking red dress to the sounds of "Hello Dolly" backed by the 17 piece orchestra.

Ultimately what the show is about and something that we can all relate to is  opportunity, second chances and love so poignantly expressed at the end of Act I when Dolly asks permission from her late husband to live life again "Before the Parade Passes By."

Here is a video from the Curtain Call on opening night in Chicago:


When: Through Nov. 17
Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $27-$98
Info: broadwayinchicago.com
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission

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Filed under: Theater in Chicago

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