By the end of Tuesday night’s opening performance of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ the audience at DPAC was on their feet … and rightly so. The wonderful cast, led by the incredible Betty Buckley in the lead role as Dolly, had just delivered nothing short of an amazing performance of this Broadway Classic to the crowd in Durham. It was a treat to see the talented cast bring this hilarious musical to life on stage in the Bull City. Based on the spontaneous cheers throughout the evening’s performance and the energy surging through the room following the closing number, you could tell the audience knew just how special the evening was.
One of the most enduring musical theater hits, Hello, Dolly! launched on Broadway 55 years ago and is an astounding 10-time Tony Award winner. The musical has been revived four times on Broadway, most recently in 2017 with Bette Midler in the lead role. This was followed by the launch of the national tour of the revival in October 2018 with Betty Buckley in the title role.
The story follows widow and matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, a middle-aged marriage broker in 1880’s New York who herself is looking to get back in the game. To make ends meet she runs a series of side hustles including dance lessons and long-distance hauling among an assortment of other odd tasks, all while she continues to set up eligible couples across the city.
Dolly is hired by the cranky feed store owner and “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (played by Lewis J. Stadlen) to find him a wife and Dolly lays out a playful scheme to land him herself, even if it takes tricking him into proposing to her. Stadlen is great as the Yonkers based bachelor complete with a thick New York accent.
The role of Dolly has been played by a series of amazing actors over the years, from Ethal Merman to Barbra Streisand in the 1969 film and Betty Buckley is right up there with the best of them delivering a world class performance and making the character very much her own. From the moment she takes to the stage you just know you are witnessing something special. It’s not just her great comedic timing, or beautiful vocals that carry the shows big songs. Buckley adds genuine emotion to her character with heart-felt monologues to her late husband asking for his blessings to move on with her life.
Of course, as Dolly implements her plan to land a husband she plays matchmaker to Horace’s two overworked store clerks, Cornelius and Barnaby (played by the talented Nic Rouleau and Sean Burns) who are enjoying a rare jaunt around the NYC. During their misadventure though the big city the two broke clerks from Yonkers become smitten with with hat shop owner Irene Molloy (played by Analisa Leaming) and her shy clerk Minnie Fay (played by Kristen Hahn).
The love-struck, couples head out on a double date that leads to my favorite scene of the whole show in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, where Dolly makes a spectacular entrance atop a grand staircase in a sparkling red gown and feathered headdress and delivers the title number surrounded by dancing waiters that left the audience roaring.
While Buckley is the standout star of the show, the dance numbers by the supporting ensemble and excellent score are equally worthy of praise. Warren Carlyle’s dazzling choreography results in dazzling routines and dancers bustling across the stage in high-energy numbers that are a delight to see. And Jerry Herman’s score is so perfectly executed by the amazing orchestra it is easy to forget that you are listening to live musicians creating the catchy melodies washing over the theater from the pit.
While the story of Dolly comes from a time where a woman’s role in society was measured most often by marriage and her husband’s wealth, this musical transcends those old stereotypes and trumps those outdated notions and to reveal the true heart of this story as one of love and romance and delivers an important message that we all need to be reminded of – that no matter what hardships you have had to endure in life, never give up and just get out there and live your best life!
‘Hello, Dolly!’ performs at DPAC through Sunday, May 26th . For tickets visit: https://lottery.broadwaydirect.com/show/dolly-durham/