The posters call it “Broadway’s Greatest Musical.” Plenty of people—even those who love it—would probably beg to differ with the word “greatest,” but there’s little doubt that Hello, Dolly! is, at least for people of a certain age, the quintessential Broadway musical, the example that pops into your head when the phrase “Broadway musical” is mentioned.
Playing through January 13 at Gammage Auditorium is the National Tour of the 2017 revival (the fifth Broadway mounting) that starred Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce. The tour stars veterans Betty Buckley as Dolly Levi, the string-pulling widowed matchmaker in late-19th-century New York, and Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder, the wealthy Yonkers widower who Dolly schemes and meddles and maneuvers to land for herself.
If you’ve ever felt nostalgic for the way large-scale musicals used to be staged, this is the show for you. Directed by Jerry Zaks inside Santo Loquasto’s red-velvet proscenium arch set, this Dolly! is sung and danced and played and costumed and orchestrated in a way that would be perfectly recognizable to a theatergoer in 1964. And judging from the warm, delighted reception that the show received opening night, this is still a great way to please an audience.
Jerry Herman’s songs, like “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and the unshakeable title number, are as catchy and effective as ever. Buckley and Stadlen manage the leads like the pros they are; Buckley holds her own through some surprisingly broad and extended shtick that seems distinctly Midler-ian. Stadlen’s querulous vocal modulations are funny, and he’s particularly excellent in his solo number “Penny in My Pocket” (cut from the original production; restored for this revival). Out of the supporting cast, Nic Rouleau sings beautifully as Cornelius Hackl, and Jess LeProtto dances beautifully as Barnaby Tucker.
Audience members in their fifties and sixties who first encountered Hello, Dolly! as kids may find that it has a different emotional impact now. It’s a jolly show, certainly, but it’s nonetheless about trying to find a way to create a meaningful life for yourself in the homestretch; a lot of scenes and lyrics that seem corny and schmaltzy when you’re young may carry a little more sting in middle age.