A friend in my neighborhood (more organized than I) purchased some tickets for a group of us to see the new Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly back in September…and am I ever glad she did. When we were on our way to see it, I posted on Facebook: “About to see Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler.” Another friend promptly wrote back, “You mean, THE BETTE MIDLER in Hello, Dolly!” And you know something? She was absolutely right.
This was Bette’s show, from beginning to end. And she killed it.
I’d never seen a stage production of Hello, Dolly! before. I know the film with Barbra Streisand (decades too young for the role, unfortunately) and I’m familiar with the soundtrack. But I’d never seen it performed live, not even a high school production. My neighbor had last seen the show on Broadway with Ginger Rogers in the starring role, back in 1966.
So we were in a very good mood when we arrived at the theater for the Saturday matinee. Fortifying ourselves with granola bars, chocolate, and red wine (the breakfast of champions) we found our seats, got settled with our programs, and joined what may have been the happiest audience I’ve ever been part of.
New Yorkers love Bette. She’s not a native (she’s from Hawaii) but she launched her career here in the theaters and the gay bathhouses, before she became internationally known for her studio albums and films. And she loves New York–enough to have founded the New York Restoration Project, which revitalizes parks in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, and preserves community gardens from commercial development.
So, as you can imagine, the show was a total love fest. When Bette made her entrance as Dolly Gallagher Levi, everyone’s favorite matchmaker and busybody, the crowd roared.
She really was fantastic…it’s hard to believe that the Divine Miss M is 71. In full voice, with perfect comedic timing, she was larger than life on the big stage—and after a career that’s included Grammy awards, Emmy awards, Golden Globe awards, and a special Tony award, it was just amazing to see her in her first starring role on Broadway.
David Hyde Pierce (you may know him best as Dr. Niles Crane) does a perfectly fine job as Horace Vandergelder, grumpy old man and Dolly’s love interest, but he (and the rest of the cast) are all in Bette’s shadow.
When Bette/Dolly makes her triumphant appearance at the beginning of the second act, entering the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, resplendent in red satin, sequins, and feathers…the audience is on its feet. You will be, too, if you have any heart at all. “Wow wow wow, fellas. Look at the old girl now, fellas…” It’s a moment of sheer joy: nostalgia, a genuine affection for the theater and the audience, an optimistic affirmation of life and second chances at happiness, and a fabulous theatricality.
If you’re a Bette Midler fan, or you love the classic musical theater, or if you just want to see a fantastic performer give it her all, do see this show.
Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.
Laura can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! Courtesy of The Shubert Organization