When we arrived at the Durham Performing Arts Center on opening night (Tuesday, May 21st), I was not surprised to see the small buses from various assisted living communities parked in front. The 2018 national tour of director Jerry Zaks’ 2017 Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! has finally reached the Bull City. And it’s not surprising because older audiences remember Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Hello Dolly” and Carol Channing as Dolly Levi in Gower Champion’s 1964-70 Broadway version of Hello, Dolly!, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart, based on the 1954 play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. This tour of the 2017 version of Hello, Dolly! brings us neither Bette Midler, who won a Tony Award® for the title role in 2017, nor Bernadette Peters, who replaced Midler on Broadway. But DPAC can’t be accused of shortchanging us on star power. The legendary Betty Buckley is taking her turn in the iconic red feathers.
Entering the theater, we see a carved and gilded archway with marquee lights and a sumptuous red velvet curtain — preparing us for the visual treats to come. The orchestra, under music director Robert Billig, performs a bright and syncopated overture that takes us back to the early days of musical theater. The keyboards, percussionist, and first trumpet are part of the tour. And local music coordinator Wayne Leechford has handpicked some of our very best local musicians for reeds, horns, and strings.
The ensemble and supporting cast in this production is top notch, but the show is rightfully centered on, and grounded by Betty Buckley’s performance as Dolly Levi. From the moment that she is revealed in the opening number, it’s clear that the evening is in her capable hands, business cards and all. During those quintessential numbers, “Before the Parade Passes By” and “Hello Dolly!” we are transfixed by her. Buckley’s singing voice is unmistakable. And she’s funny!
Buckley hasn’t been known for her comedic chops in the past (Grizabella’s story line in Cats isn’t exactly a laugh riot), but she will be from now on. The introduction to the courtroom scene is a master class in comic timing. It’s not every day that Durham is treated to a Tony Award-winning legend, leading a lavish golden age musical comedy. In her early 70’s, Buckley turns in a top-tier performance, and it’s worth saying just how lucky we are to see it.
Matching Buckley laugh for laugh is veteran character actor Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder. Stadlen has many moments of understated comedic brilliance. He plays the role as a likable grump, serving as a wonderful foil to Buckley’s eccentric Dolly Levi.
The four young lovers, Cornelius (Nic Rouleau) and Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming), together with Barnaby (Sean Burns) and Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn) provide a lighthearted and youthful counterpoint to Dolly and Horace’s mature machinations. Those who saw the national tour of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at DPAC will remember Kristen Hahn in the role of Phoebe. Hahn’s comic monologue at the top of Mrs. Molloy’s hat-shop scene is priceless.
The “Motherhood” sequence in the hat shop is particularly zany, thanks to Jerry Zaks’ slapstick staging using a table, a curtain, large hats, and a storage closet. In contrast, in Act Two, when Cornelius expresses the joy of his day, “It Only Takes a Moment,” Rouleau and Leaming create a beautiful moment of authenticity, going right to the heart of the story.
The show’s scenic and costume design (by Santo Loquasto) and lighting design (by Natasha Katz) is a replication of the 2017 Broadway revival. While there are some impressive moving scenic pieces, I was impressed by the multitude of drops that were created in the style of hand-tinted picture postcards of the era. Loquasto’s costumes are a sophisticated and sumptuous color story that is particularly impressive in the rainbow that is “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and the authentic garb in “Before the Parade Passes By.”
Warren Carlyle’s clever and complicated choreography pays tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion, yet feels fresh and contemporary. “The Waiters Gallop” in Act Two is truly a sight to behold: it’s an extended show piece of barrel rolls, entrechats, leaps, and complex traffic patterns, with the waiters carrying domed trays, skewers, large platters of food, and bottles of champagne. It’s amazing to watch and garners well-deserved, prolonged applause.
Only a few minutes later, now changed into burgundy waiter attire, the waiters are back in support of Dolly Levi for her iconic descent of the staircase, in a glorious red sequined and feathered gown, for the title number. At the end of the number, as the audience applauds, Betty Buckley gestures to the waiters, encouraging more applause, and acknowledging the orchestra.
If you haven’t planned to stop by DPAC this week to say “Hello,” you’ll be missing a heartwarming and first-rate evening of theater.
SECOND OPINION: May 22nd Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Review by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-HELLO-DOLLY-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20190522 and May 20th BWW Interview with Lewis J. Stadlen, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-Lewis-J-Stadlen-of-HELLO-DOLLY-National-Tour-20190520; May 22nd Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/05/dpacs-hello-dolly-is-an-absolute-delight/; May 21st Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by “Out and About” editor Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: https://www.wral.com/hello-dolly-brings-comedy-romance-to-durham/18391193/; and May 17th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Isaac Weeks: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article230453314.html.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents HELLO, DOLLY!, starring Betty Buckley as Dolly Levi, at 7:30 p.m. May 22 and 23, 8 p.m. May 24, 2 and 8 p.m. May 25, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. May 26 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $31 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here to enter the digital lottery for $30 tickets.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), email@example.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369510/2480265.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/hello-dolly and https://www.facebook.com/events/841459839576877/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dihitalJAjQ.
DPAC NEWS RELEASES: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/dpac-announces-digital-rush-lottery-for-hello-dolly and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/hello-dolly-on-sale-at-dpac-on-february-21.
THE TOUR: https://hellodollyonbroadway.com/, https://hellodollyonbroadway.com/tour, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/hello-dolly–518028, https://www.facebook.com/HelloDollyBroadway, and https://twitter.com/hellodollybway.
TOUR CAST: https://hellodollyonbroadway.com/bios.
DPAC‘S 2018-19 “IT’S OUR NEW YORK, NEW YORK” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway/season/2018-2019-broadway-season.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, May 25th, performance. Guests with a disabilities can find more information by clicking DPAC’s accessibility page.
Hello, Dolly! (1964 Broadway musical): https://tamswitmark.com/shows/hello-dolly/ (Tams-Witmark), https://hellodollyonbroadway.com/ (2017 Broadway Revival and 2018 National Tour website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/hello-dolly-4310 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hello,_Dolly!_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Betty Buckley (Big Spring, TX-born actress and singer): http://www.bettybuckley.com/ (official website), https://hellodollyonbroadway.com/bios (tour bio), http://iobdb.com/CreditableEntity/2855 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/betty-buckley-33550 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000990/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Buckley (Wikipedia).
Nancy Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women’s Theatre Festival. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.