Put on your Sunday clothes and get down to the Hollywood Pantages Theatre because there’s a new matchmaker in town, and her antics are bound to warm even the coldest of hearts. The Tony Award-winning Best Musical Revival of Hello Dolly! is currently making its Los Angeles debut as part of a national tour, and it has arrived bursting at the seams with style and joy. Starring Broadway legend Betty Buckley and based on The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder, this 1964 musical is a feel-good relic and a perfect example of classic musical theatre, where a grand overture begins the evening and there are too many dazzling dance numbers to count.
Dolly (Buckley) has been absent from the 19th century New York social circles for a while following the death of her husband. But she is determined to get back to her meddling ways—she loves manipulating situations, matchmaking, and making a dollar anywhere she can. She even has a bottomless trove of highly specific business cards at her disposal at all times, advertising her services for everything from dance lessons to legal aid. Her latest mission is to find a wife for Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen), a grumpy widower who owns a hay and feed store in Yonkers. Dolly has set up a potential romance between Horace and Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming), a smart Manhattan hat shop owner. But Irene longs for an actual romance, and Dolly has her sights on marrying Horace herself, although she is willing to bide her time, confident it will all work out for her by the time her plan runs its course.
Horace has two long-suffering employees, Cornelius (Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby (Jess LeProtto), who are longing for a taste of life in Manhattan. When Horace leaves the store in their care for a day so he can go meet Irene, they seize the opportunity, running off to the big city in hopes of finding girls to kiss for the first time. They quickly cross paths with Irene and her assistant, Minnie (Kristen Hahn), but their efforts to both pretend they have enough money to entertain the women and avoid Horace result in a farcical adventure the likes of which they have never experienced.
Directed by Jerry Zaks, everything about this production is opulent, from the set and costume design (Santo Loquasto) to the elaborate dance numbers, performed by a large ensemble and choreographed spectacularly by Warren Carlyle. While many musicals only have one or two showstoppers, Hello Dolly! easily has four or five. From the act one “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” when the ensemble slowly struts out in costumes each more colorful than the last, to the jaunty restaurant number “The Waiters’ Gallop” where the ensemble performs intricate choreography involving serving trays and champagne bottles, to the title number, with Buckley donned head to toe in red sparkles, the applause on opening night was seemingly nonstop. Speaking of the title number, Jerry Herman’s score is so catchy that you’ll be humming it long after you leave the theater.
It is a treat to see Buckley in this role. While the ensemble does nearly all of the heavy lifting in terms of dancing, she has comedic timing and stage presence in spades, as well as a voice that sounds as fresh as ever. Rouleau is also a standout as Cornelius, with unending energy and a bright-eyed optimism that makes you immediately root for him. LeProtto’s dancing is also very impressive, as is the ensemble, who seems to be working overtime given the high volume of large production numbers in the show.
As with most musicals of this era, aspects of the plot are certainly dated in ways that have not necessarily aged well. When Horace sings “it takes a woman all powdered and pink, to joyously clean out the drain in the sink” you cannot help but cringe, but it helps that Dolly is as shrewd a character as she is and the one pulling all of the strings. Every storyline is wrapped up neatly with a bow by the end of the second act and every main character gets what they wanted—but isn’t that kind of nice to see sometimes? Simply put, this production of Hello Dolly! is a delight, and a must-see for anyone nostalgic for the golden age of musical theater.
Hello Dolly! runs at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through February 17th. The running time is two hours and 35 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased here. After LA, the tour will play San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, and more. For more information and to purchase tickets for those engagements, click here.