Bette Midler - Well, Hello, Dolly!
The announcement that Bette Midler will star in a Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! acts on me like a much-needed tonic where musical theatre is concerned. After a recent blog entry bemoaning the loss of honest to goodness old-fashioned musical comedy, what better way to usher back in the feel-good melody infused musical comedy than with a production of this Jerry Herman classic with the Divine Miss M's name over the title?
The original Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway in 1964 and it became the big hit of the season, going on to run 2,844 performances and winning10 Tony Awards (It was nominated for11). The musical features a book by Michael Stewart who cleverly and economically adapted Thornton Wilder's 1938 play The Merchant of Yonkers and it's 1955 revision The Matchmaker into a high-energy, smile manifesting night of pure joy. Jerry Herman summoned the gods of melody and procured a dozen joyous showtunes including "Put on Your Sunday Clothes", "Before the Parade Passes By" and the Grammy Award-winning title song. Under the guidance of director-choreographer Gower Champion, the musical was a relentless farce that somehow managed to find time for touching, reflective moments such as "Ribbons Down My Back" and Dolly's monologues to her late husband asking for him to give her a sign that she can move past her mourning and rejoin the human race.
Yes, I am taking on the role of the beloved Dolly Levi in "Hello, Dolly!". We open next year on Broadway! So excited!— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) January 19, 2016
The original Dolly Levi in 1964 was none other than the wide-eyed comedy goof Carol Channing. With a voice that sounded like she gargled with carburetor fluid and a body that was all gangly arms and legs, she seemed an odd choice to play Cupid's stand-in as this matchmaker extraordinaire. She was, however, a delight. A powerhouse of comedy perfection, Channing took ownership of Dolly and made it her own personal property, bringing her performance back to Broadway twice and touring extensively with her around the country. She won a well-deserved Tony for Best Actress, beating Barbra Streisand's Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. (Streisand would go on and win the role of Dolly Levi in the 1969 film version of Hello, Dolly!, which had to be hard for Channing). Interestingly, the role had been turned down by several other actresses (including Ethel Merman) before Channing inherited its guardianship.
It is time for Miss Channing to pass on the mantel to a new actress who can breathe both life and love into this iconic role. Bette Midler is just the over the top, larger than life persona to incite a band of prancing waiters to line up by that grand staircase with eager anticipation of Dolly's return. Midler can sing, she can dance, she can charm, she can manipulate, she can seduce, and she sure as hell can make Dolly the spirit of love and adventure once again. What's more, Midler is a gay icon for a reason, a touch of the tragic with dollops of camp, and that doesn't hurt your chances where great musical theatre comedy is concerned. This announcement of Bette Midler playing Dolly Levi is a reason to celebrate. This is exactly what Broadway needs right now and who better to gift it to us than a lady we have been praying would return to Broadway? To quote the Jerry Herman lyric "I can feel my heart coming alive again."