Put On Your Understudy Clothes: Who Should Be Bette Midler’s Understudy for Dolly?
With the forthcoming Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler breaking records at the box office, we have to take a minute to think about who is going to fill the Divine Miss M’s shoes when she is not performing. We already know they are going to need someone to cover matinees, and God forbid Ms. Midler gets sick and needs an understudy to go on her place. It’s going to require someone of either star caliber or of great talent to fill these shoes, and the producers know that audiences are not going to accept just anyone to fill her shoes. With that in mind, here is a list of people I think could pull it off nicely.
Carolee Carmello is a great go-to on any Broadway casting list since she is so versatile and beloved. She has a refreshing air about her, no matter how many Broadway shows she shows up in, and I cannot help but feel that every one of her performances comes from the heart. I cannot think of anything this lady cannot pull-off, so why not put her atop that fabled staircase and let her radiate her charm as Dolly?
There has always been a quirky warmth about Alison Fraser, a dash of the zany that always makes me think of her when Broadway is casting for musical comedy plum roles. Over the years, Fraser has demonstrated a remarkable range that would make her an unforgettable Dolly Levi. Let’s give her a chance to really shine as a star of a musical comedy vehicle.
In a different time, perhaps between the Guys & Dolls revival which won her a Tony and the Bells Are Ringing revival that did not, a revival of Hello, Dolly! should have been built around Faith Prince’s impeccable comedic delivery and her over-the-top personality. She’s a larger-than-life gal with also the capacity the paint in subtle vulnerability. Wouldn’t her Dolly be both very funny and sublimely complex?
I cannot get enough of Lillias White. She has a big voice, she makes bold choices, and she is so inherently loveable that I think her Dolly would resonate far into the heavens. She is, perhaps, booked elsewhere, but I sure would love to see what her trumpet of a voice would do with “Before the Parade Passes By”.
Don’t laugh at me. I’ve said it before and I’d day it again. There is a farcical wackiness in Hello, Dolly! that would benefit from the timing of Fran Drescher. Maybe it wouldn’t the best-sung Dolly, but let’s face it, Carol Channing wasn’t exactly an angel’s choir. Drescher would be a hoot to watch, and what is more, she exudes a warmth that makes you think she could probably help you find love.
For God’s sake can we get this woman OFF the damn doctor drama and back on Broadway where she shines? After winning a Tony Award for Spamalot, she’s been doing Grey’s Anatomy, and we miss her. Bring her big smile and her golden voice back to Broadway and let her play Dolly for matinees. It’d be so nice to have her back where she belongs!
Andrea Martin would have a field day with the humor and the vulnerability of Dolly Gallagher Levi. Martin is one of the few actresses of “a certain age” who can be sexy, loveable, and damn it, honest! There is nothing phony in her delivery and she would be a true, balls to the wall, Dolly, perhaps the most human Dolly of all.
I adore Ann Harada and I think she can do just about anything. Musical comedy, however, is her specialty, and she is never afraid to be big, brassy, physical and fun. She was a standout in Avenue Q, and delicious in Cinderella as a stepsister, but I am tired of seeing her relegated to supporting player. Let her sashay down that staircase and make us smile while adoring waiters fawn over her. My bet is that she would be game.
An actress that has morphed and aged beautifully from ingénue to firecracker character actress is Emily Skinner. Playing broad comedy is a particular talent of hers, and I think she would do wonders as Dolly Levi. She also exhales a lovely little thing that I call heart, and you feel an extra something special when she is center stage. I can already hear her doing the Ephraim/manure monologue and reducing us to simultaneous hysterics and tears.
We haven’t seen her in Broadway musicals for quite some time, but I have always enjoyed the sass and the class of Ms. Loretta Devine. I think she’d give us a Dolly who was both zany and a bit edgy. This isn’t a Dolly who would suffer fools easily, but she’d sure strut and backtalk with great love and humor as she played the fools to her advantage.
For a complex, nuanced Dolly, I think Betty Buckley might do the trick nicely. It would also be a nice contrast to Ms. Midler’s performance. Buckley is a consummate actress and she would make the most out of the word feast that is Michael Stewart’s book (based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker). I often think that it is overlooked how important it is that the person playing Dolly Levi needs to be an actress first, and then a singer. However, in this case, we’d get both the impassioned acting and the dynamite voice.
Have you any ideas to add to the least? I’d love to hear what they are!