Pittsburgh CLO’s ‘Hello Dolly!’ is darn near perfect

By August 8, 2019 No Comments

Betty Buckley and the cast of “Hello Dolly”(Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic

There’s a reason some shows are considered landmarks. Put your hands together for Jerry Herman’s 1964 mega-monster-musical milestone Hello, Dolly!

You probably couldn’t count all the Tony Awards and nominations garnered by the original production and subsequent Broadway revivals. And don’t forget the Oscars for the film version. And how about Louis Armstrong’s 1964 smash hit recording of the title tune which made him, at age 62, the oldest person ever to reach number one on the Billboard pop charts.

Every night somewhere in the world some dame in a red dress is walking down a red staircase while a chorus dressed up as waiters tell her she’s looking swell … it’s still one of the most produced musicals around the globe.

Hello, Dolly! continues through August 11. Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, Downtown. 412/456-6666.

Here in Pittsburgh that diva coming down those steps is Betty Buckley in the national tour of the 2017 Broadway revival.

Pittsburgh CLO is hosting the company and if you ever had any doubt why Dolly! remains the monument it is, this production shows you … from lights up to curtain down.

Jerry Zaks directs and Warren Carlyle choreographs (both honoring the work of Gower Champion – the director/choreographer of the ‘64 production.) Santo Loquasto has designed the eye-popping sets and the seemingly limitless array of near heart-stopping costumes. If nothing else, you could happily spend the show’s two-ish hours lost if the visual feast Loquasto has created and the extraordinary work Zaks and Carlyle get from this effortlessly talented dancing ensemble.

There’s a time period known as the Golden Age of the American Musical which starts roughly in the early ’40s and continued through the early ’60s. Golden Age musicals are shows known for solid steel construction, built like battleships relentlessly plowing ahead with only one stated purpose – Entertain the Audience. By the 1960s, Broadway was beginning to turn away from such entertainments, moving toward shows reflecting the fracturing of the American Idea; there were huge upheavals happening outside of the theater and the writers and composers coming up wanted to explore that.

Dolly! would be one of the last gasps of that old Golden Age. And while it may be easy to make fun of its simple plot and the unreality of the characters, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the utter precision of what Herman and Champion created.

Zaks and Carlyle have the smarts to realize the heavy lifting has already been done – they don’t need to “explore” Dolly! for new depth or meaning. The job is to utilize their talents with the goal of doing whatever they can to make this production as entertaining as the original … and they have more than succeed. I was mesmerized by their attention to detail and specificity. There doesn’t seem to be a moment of the production which hasn’t been examined at a molecular level to find how it might be used to bring joy to an audience.

This tour has been on the road for nearly a year and I should say that it seems that maybe, just maybe, some of the playing – especially the comedy material – has grown perhaps somewhat robotic; the cast knows how to reach the laughs but those pathways seem a bit well-worn. On the other hand, it’s such a stylized production (in a good way) that maybe it was like this out of the box.

But that’s really a very small quibble next to the mountainous amount of talent on stage. Buckley forms an immediate and indelible bond with the audience who, by the curtain call, was ready to pull her from her carriage and carry her through the streets. Lewis J. Stadlen finds a great deal of variation in the somewhat thankless role of Vandergelder.

Nic Rouleau and Analisa Leaming sing the beautiful songs of Cornelius and Irene with beautiful voices while Sean Burns and Kristen Hahn have lots of fun playing the physicality of Barnaby and Minnie Fay.

I’m tempted to say, in the words of the title song, it’s nice to have you back again where you belong … but that’s the thing about Dolly!. She’s never left and, at least for the foreseeable future, has no plans to.

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