Village Voice 05.10.2017 : Page 52

54 May 10 -May 16, 2017 Place Your Bette Ms. Midler brings back the show that’ll never go away VILLAGE W BY MICHAEL FEINGOLD found for a piece of decorative diversion, or a popular vaudeville team’s “specialty.” Hello, Dolly! inherited this jauntier, loose-limbed tradition, viewed suspi-ciously by Sondheim worshippers and other true believers in the musical as a seri-ous art form. Its dramatic resolutions can be hasty and arbitrary, their dialogue kept short, funny, and just coherent enough to send everyone home feeling content — as Dolly has done for over half a century. It re-tains enough of Wilder’s original language to provide tiny flourishes of literary distinc-tion, while the perky tunes and pert lyrics of Herman’s score (a few bits of it abetted by other songwriters’ doctoring during the original’s troubled tryout period) provide a steady stream of bright spots. If Stewart’s book has its slapdash moments, nobody much cares to complain: For decades, satisfied customers have watched Dolly finish her Harmonia Gardens dinner in a courtroom with a trial going on and never blinked at the anomaly. Musical comedy grants a kind of freedom that gives com-mon sense to the lie. Another asset: Any female star above ingénue age can fit comfortably in Dolly ’s lead role with minimal retailoring. Donna Murphy, who will be replacing Bette Midler on Tuesday nights in the current revival at the Shubert, couldn’t be further Bette Midler as Dolly: Not one to let a parade pass her by hen librettist Michael Stewart adapted Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker into the 1964 musical Hello, Dolly! , he made one tiny verbal change that’s always struck me as the es-sence of the American musical. In Wild-er’s comedy, Dolly Levi lures the miserly Horace Vandergelder to the Harmonia Gardens by promising to introduce him to a modest girl with an ultra-economical lifestyle named Ernestina Simple, who doesn’t exist and so never appears. In Stewart and songwriter Jerry Herman’s musical version, however, the young lady materializes as a fat, vulgar, free-spending girl of wild behavior and enor-mous appetite, named Ernestina Money. The whole history of the link between spoken theater and musicals lies in the change from Simple to Money, from a slim, quiet figure in the audience’s imagi-nation to a hefty, loud, extravagant, and slightly embarrassing reality. Hefty, loud, and extravagant, Hello, Dolly! seems in many ways the quintes-sential American musical. Not only does it celebrate affluence through its display of lavish excess — multiple sets, a large chorus in elaborate period costumes, big ensemble dance numbers — but it preaches a gospel of wealth. Money is Dolly ’s subject. Its central conflict is between two versions of capitalism: Horace’s avaricious hoarding and Dolly’s liberal belief that you cause prosperity by spending money. Like Dolly’s and Horace’s clashing views of money, the musical, with its wealth of possibilities, has spawned con-flicting schools of thought. Proponents of the “integrated” musical, as shaped by Rodgers and Hammerstein and on through Sondheim, see it as a unified work of art, aspiring toward the dramatic heights of opera but rendered in the terms of American vernacular and popular music. Yet the cohesive works of these artists evolved from a wide range of more loosely constructed predecessors, from the comic operas of Offenbach to the late-nineteenth-century American extrava-ganzas that were barely more than variety shows held together by a desultory com-mon theme. The great musicals from the 1910s up through the ’40s — made by art-ists like Kern and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter — treated their integration of script and score casually. While songs were written and “spotted” to fit character and situation, as well as the distinctive qualities of the stars for whom the show was being built, room could always be from Midler in personality and approach staunch Irene Molloy, and Taylor than — well, than Pearl Bailey was from Trensch, a brightly jittery Barnaby, the Carol Channing. The prospect intrigues acting veers between the colorless and because Murphy is noted for darkly in-the overstated. Still, when all’s said and tense, strongly centered performances; done, it’s Hello, Dolly! The chorus puts on Midler, in contrast, is more a stage pres-its Sunday clothes, the waiters gallop, the ence than an actress. Her shtick has largely parade passes by, the star nibbles her lei-been to stand outside her role and com-surely way through her courtroom repast, ment on it, as you might expect of a and audiences go home happy. woman who once sang the title song from While Dolly Levi’s myth is eternal, his-Oklahoma! while dancing the hula. For tory has caught up with the one retold in those who love her, she can do no wrong. Anastasia (Broadhurst Theatre), about the For the rest of us, she makes an amusing czar’s daughter who magically survived but detached Dolly, with an on-again, off-the Bolshevik firing squad. We now know again vocal delivery that makes her big that it didn’t happen. The famous claim-songs seem to evanesce as they build to ant was just a demented Polish factory the finish. It’s not a matter of eccentricity worker, and the story — after a Broadway or vocal mannerism; few Broadway stars play, a movie, and a previous musical have been more mannered in their singing with songs based on themes from Rach-than Channing. The maninoff — is merely a difference seems to lie story, and not one that ur-Hello, Dolly! in some core of belief: gently needs retelling. The Shubert Theatre Channing, while being pity is that there’s much 225 West 44th Street herself, was Dolly Levi; charm in the new version: 212-239-6200 Midler is playing, or Several of the songs by playing at, the role. Her Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Anastasia proficient comic sense, Flaherty are inventive, as Broadhurst Theatre rather than her energy are some of Peggy Hick-235 West 44th Street or commitment, is ey’s choreography and the 212-239-6200 what keeps it going. projections (especially in a This makes it moving-train sequence) by slightly tough for those Aaron Rhyne. The cast, who have to play scenes with her: You too, is jewel-laden: Christy Altomare and can’t confront someone who’s off in her Derek Klena, as the pert pseudo-princess own world. Still, comic characters of Dol-and her con-man lover; Ramin Karimloo, ly’s stature tend to have that rampant as the KGB man in hot pursuit; John self-absorption, so in a sense Midler’s Bolton, as a fake aristocrat; Caroline persona makes her casting viable. It O’Connor, as a real one whom the authors hasn’t harmed David Hyde Pierce, her have unwisely turned into a life-of-the-Vandergelder, who gives a good and émigré-party gal; and Mary Beth Peil, an forceful account of the role, in a bewhis-empress of our stage who makes an excel-kered makeup that suggests Mark Twain. lent dowager empress. But the focus wan-Overall, though, director Jerry Zaks has ders unsteadily, as if everyone involved shown a lax hand in the performance were faintly aware that this myth was no department: Apart from Kate Baldwin, a longer recyclable. Julieta Cervantes

Previous Page  Next Page

Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here