When I saw Hello, Dolly! In New York with Bette Midler last year, I was in awe. I knew that it was special, and it was an experience I’d never forget. I truly considered myself one of the luckiest theatre goers after seeing Midler in this iconic role and now I consider myself even luckier with the night I had at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. Not only have I seen one legend as the infamous Dolly Levi, but now I’ve seen two. Betty Buckley, best known for her Tony-Award winning performance as Grizabella in Cats, is saying hello audiences across the country in this national tour of Hello, Dolly!.
Hello, Dolly! is without a doubt one of the most well-known musicals in the world. The show has been done numerous times from community theater to high school ones and professional productions including the original Broadway run in 1964 which won over 11 Tony awards including one for Best Actress in a Musical for the late great Carol Channing. The story then event went on to be a major motion picture starring Barbara Streisand.
The story is about Dolly Levi a socialite-turned-matchmaker who lives in New York City. She is both witty and bold but most importantly, meddling. One of her latest clients, Horace Vandergelder, is a “half-a-millionaire” and looking for a wife. A widow herself, she finds herself in love with Mr. Vandergelder and invites him out to the city. Soon her schemes overflow into the lives of Vandergelder’s two clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker as they seek adventure and sneak out of work to explore. They stumble upon Irene Molloy, currently trying to be set up by Dolly with Vandergelder, and her associate Minnie Fay. Dolly then begins her biggest scheme of all as she weaves a web of romantic complications to ensure everyone ends up with the one they are meant to be with…including herself.*
Both the costumes and set, designed by three-time Tony award winning Santos Loquasto, are straight from the Broadway run. His attention to detail in both the vividly stunning costumes and set make them a spectacular sight to see. It’s not often that a technical element of a show will earn applause mid-scene however Loquasto’s does - and multiple times. There is no denying that he was ambitious in both Vandergelder’s shop and the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant however there is one key set piece that earned cheers and that was the train that whisks them away from Yonkers. His lovely formal pastel costumes earned applause as well during the song “Put on Your Sunday Clothes.”
Performing something as old as Hello, Dolly! seems daunting at first due to its rich source material, however this entire cast puts on one of the best performances I’ve seen at the Orpheum. From the galloping waiters to the dancing ensemble members it was immaculately performed. The choreography, which pays tribute to the original work of director and choreographer Gower Champion, is honestly one of my favorite things about the show. The stamina and athleticism of the performers is unmatched to a large majority of ensembles I’ve seen before.
What is so exciting about this production is the vast portrayals of timeless characters that many musical theatre lovers know and cherish so much. I truly adored Kristen Hahn’s performance as Irene Molloy’s assistant, Minnie Fay. She changed it to something I’d never seen before, and it was through a deadpan dry comedic performance that was different and refreshing.
Analisa Leaming, who plays Irene Molloy, is aggressively hilarious and breaks the mold of what a woman was told to be at that time period. However, I was slightly disappointed at the fast pace she took with “Ribbons Down My Back.” It felt rushed and took the sincerity out of what normally is a gorgeous and delicate song.
One of my favorite duos in this production is Nic Rouleau as Cornelius Hackl along with Jess Leprotto as Barnaby Tucker. Their comedic timing and charming personalities are wonderful to watch. Rouleau is a gifted singer with an incredible tone that soared through the Orpheum during “It Only Takes a Moment.” Leprotto is also an especially skilled dancer with a child like personality that often received many “awww’s” from audience members, myself included.
The cherry on top of this already extraordinary production is the legendary Betty Buckley. During intermission I tweeted that Buckley “still had it,” however I was wrong – she never lost it. Buckley takes a different approach to the normal way that Dolly Levi is played. She is still crafty and witty however she played her with a more patient cunningness to her which I truly loved. Her belt is as strong as ever and her incredible stamina is what keeps the driving force of this show going all the way through the end.
There is also another reason why I think producers, community and regional theatres and performing arts fans shouldn’t cast aside this show. Hello, Dolly! gives a chance for older performers to still revel in the limelight. The show centers around four couples however the female and male lead are both older characters which is something we aren’t used to seeing in musicals specifically.
Hello, Dolly! is a truly adored piece of musical theatre cannon. This is not only audience members best chance to see it but it’s the chance to see it with this gifted cast. The dancing, performances and technical elements is a reminder to new musicals that this forever classic is not to be trifled with or underestimated.
Hello, Dolly! runs now through Sunday, April 28 at the Orpheum Theatre through Hennepin Theatre Trust.
*Summary of show is lifted from my 2018 review of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway.