A star of stage and screen, Betty Buckley is terrific as Dolly Gallagher Levi in the national tour of Hello Dolly at the Civic Theatre. She brings thoughtful emotion to the role of matchmaker and makes us wish for Sunday clothes and feathered hats.
The musical comedy from 1964 feels a bit dusty, but Buckley is so likeable that we can’t help but laugh and sing along.
Approaching 72, Buckley is well-known for her Grizzabella in Cats, along with Sunset Boulevard, and the TV series Eight is Enough.
As Dolly the widow, Buckley is magnetic in monologues, speaking truth directly to us.
“As my late husband Ephraim Levi, used to say, money—pardon the expression—is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”
And hats off to the dancing waiters of the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant who give this ‘ol gem extra gallop.
The musical, set in 1890 New York, is based on Thorton Wilder’s play, The Matchmaker. Marriage broker Dolly Levi heads to Yonkers to find a match for the cheap “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen). He wants to marry a milliner, but she’s all wrong for him, according to Dolly.
Meanwhile, Vandergelder’s two inexperienced store clerks sneak away, and they all end up in Manhattan as Dolly meddles in romance and trickery until she convinces Vandergelder to marry her instead.
If you’ve never seen a production with the glimmering Carol Channing, who died this week at age 97, or Bette Midler, who took a turn in 2017, or the movie version with Barbra Streisand, consider a coffee beforehand. With a run-time of two hours 15 minutes, plus intermission, there are moments when there’s not enough fizz.
The thrill of this musical is not the storyline or madcap fooling around. The score, by Jerry Herman, is familiar like an old friend and includes “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Elegance,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and the crowd-pleasing title song.
The cast of 32 delivers them all in fine form, as Robert Billig directs the orchestra, which sounds surprisingly clear in the Civic Theatre. Bravo to the trumpet section (Jeffrey Wilfore, and local musicians Steve Dillard and Andrew Elstob).
Candy-colored costumes to die for are adorned with bustles, feathers, and rhinestones by Santo Loquasto, who received the 2017 Tony Award for Best Costume Design. He also did the colorful scrims.
If you go, savor those costumes and Buckley’s conniving personality. Sing along and tip the galloping waiters on the grand staircase. Their dancing is dazzling pandemonium.
Choreographer Warren Caryle has the cast prancing on half-toe, couples flirting a soft shoe, and waiters whirling platters and balancing towers of plates between split jumps; it’s a huge homage to the genius of Gower Champion, the original director and choreographer.
Hello Dolly! The national tour presented by Broadway San Diego runs through Jan. 20 at the Civic Theatre. www.broadwaysd.com