“Hello, Dolly!” Delights from Start to Finish

By Eva Phillips

The unpleasantries and discomforts of growing old, being financially disenfranchised, being a woman in a patriarchal world (and so on, and so forth) really go down much smoother with a little song’n’dance and a pop of color. Of course, we all know that a rousing song and a swelling orchestra don’t actually solve any of life’s unavoidable or seemingly insurmountable trials. Of course, most theatre-goers and musical-fanatics know that a rousing number and a little toe tap can’t actually rectify the trials of life, but we love how these shows carry on as if they might. There’s a certain edge, though, to many of the exaggeratedly splendorous shows of the mid-20th century—shows like Gypsy, Showboat, My Fair Lady, The King and I, and so on—where the pomp and splendor is matched with a sneaking sense of social and cultural criticism.

Inspired by Thornton Wilder’s farcical The Merchant of Yonkers (revised to be fittingly titled The Matchmaker), the relentlessly enthusiastic Hello, Dolly is a quintessential case of such a musical. Debuting on Broadway in 1964, the musical—with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, and book by Michael Stewart—is infused with messages of ageism, gender disparities (fueled by the suffragette movement), class issues, and more. Dolly tells the story of the tenaciously feisty, but noticeably late-in-years, matchmaker, Dolly Gallagher Levi, as she endeavors to marry the curmudgeonly “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder while keeping her designs to marry Vandergelder herself clandestine. Dolly’s plan is complicated by Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, cheery yet naïve assistants at Vandergelder’s shop, as they secretly venture to New York City to live the good life for a day and stumble upon Irene Molloy (who Dolly promised Vandergelder would wed) and her fretful shop-assistant, Minnie Fay.

The revival of Hello, Dolly! brought to the Benedum as part of the unstoppably exceptional Pittsburgh CLO summer season is a rapturous delight that charms and dazzles at every moment. Director Jerry Zaks masterfully leads a knock-out cast in a Dolly that beautifully captures the crystallized wonderment and quotidian awe that still conveys a nagging cynicism and skepticism that was so characteristic of the original Hello, Dolly! As the endearingly pertinacious Dolly, Betty Buckley epitomizes superstar (unsurprisingly, of course, given her lustrous, decades-long stage and screen career). Her Dolly is resolute and cheeky, while heart-wrenchingly sincere and eager. Buckley converts each member of the audience into her dearest companions, one of many signs of her formidable talent and on-stage grace, and her performances in numbers like “Before the Parade Passes By,” are rapturous showstoppers. In a cast replete with incomparable, vigorous talent, Nic Rouleau and Sean Burns—as Cornelius and Barnaby, respectively—are absolutely electric, enlivening the two bemused men with energizing “gee whiz” authenticity, and their phenomenal finesse in their physical comedy and performances is thrilling throughout. And as Irene Molloy, Analisa Leaming commands the stage with incomparable poise, effortless comedic pacing, and powerful vocals.

The ensemble cast in a show like Hello, Dolly! can make or break the production, and the ensemble filling the Benedum stage with ecstatic life completely transcend the show. Choreographer Warren Carlyle deserves endless praise for masterminding such tight, dynamic movement that makes excellent use of the performers abilities. Visually, Hello Dolly! is an opulent feast, with colors and scenery that are as lavish as they are realistic. Scenic and Costume Designer Santo Loquasto has brilliantly created a world, both through scenic design and wardrobe, that is stunningly transportive, and when his work is paired with stellar work of Lighting Designer Natasha Katz, the audience is gloriously thrust right in the heart of Hello, Dolly! in such a way that makes it hard to ever leave.

Hello Dolly! is a breathtakingly fun experience, poignant and bawdy at the right moments. Don’t do yourself a disservice by missing out on all the splendor. The show runs at the Benedum through August 11th. For tickets and more, visit Pittsburgh CLO’s site.

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