In today’s Wall Street Journal I report on the new Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! Here’s an excerpt.
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Bette Midler is playing in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway. As far as most people are concerned, this review could end right here. The box office at the Shubert Theatre has been printing money by the carload ever since previews for the show started in March, and no matter what I or anybody else has to say, it will continue to do so as long as Ms. Midler doesn’t slip and fracture a tibia. She is what she is, “Hello, Dolly!” is what it is, and putting the two together is as close as show business gets to a no-brainer: “Dolly” won’t work without a superstar in the title role and Patti LuPone is otherwise occupied, so casting Ms. Midler as Dolly Gallagher Levi, the matchmaker with a big heart and an empty purse who longs for a rich husband to ease her life, makes perfect sense. That’s the theory, anyway, and judging by the show-stopping shrieks of joy that greeted Ms. Midler when she made her first entrance on Wednesday night, her fans are going to love this revival….
Perhaps critics ought not to dash cold water on such displays of collective affection, but the producers of “Hello, Dolly!” are charging $169 for an orchestra seat, for which reason it seems to me that I have an obligation to report honestly on what I saw and heard. So here goes: Ms. Midler’s singing voice is in a desperate, sometimes shocking state of disrepair. If you remember what Ethel Merman sounded like in her last years, you’ll know exactly how she sounded in “Before the Parade Passes By.” I’m not sure whether she’s suffering from an acute case of laryngitis (her speaking voice was hoarse as well) or the inescapable effects of age (she is 71). Whatever the reason, her singing suggested that she’d have trouble making it through the curtain calls, much less the run of a show as demanding as “Dolly.” As for the rest of the performance, Ms. Midler doesn’t even bother to act: She simply comes on stage and plays her familiar self…
Jerry Zaks and Warren Carlyle, the director and choreographer, have staged this revival in a cartoonish manner. That’s appropriate in a way, since “Hello, Dolly!” is a cartoon version of Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” the enduringly winning 1955 farce from which it was adapted by Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart in 1964. Nevertheless, it’s possible to perform “Dolly” with the same unforced sweetness and underlying emotional seriousness that make “The Matchmaker” so satisfying a romantic comedy, and that’s what’s wrong with Mr. Zaks’ staging: It’s totally unfelt. Every supporting performance is a grotesque caricature…
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Read the whole thing here.
Carol Channing sings “Before the Parade Passes By” on the 1971 Tony Awards telecast: