The world is full of wonderful things.
For a musical that’s over 50 years old and permanently fixed in the public consciousness (or at least, that of musical theater fans!), the new production of Hello, Dolly! that hit Broadway in 2017 and currently touring North America is undeniably fresh, funny, and delightfully entertaining.
A great deadpan, tongue-in-cheek humor carried out throughout the entire show, never making fun of or mocking the original source material. The early opening number “It Takes a Woman,” the intro song by romantic conquest-to-be Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen), is sung diagetically only to his employees Cornelius and Barnaby, but men pop out from every nook and cranny to join in the chorus, only to disappear and reappear someplace else for their next cue. Barnaby (Jess LeProtto), a hopelessly lovesick young man whose main aspiration is to kiss a girl, delivers his exclamations with a straight “Gee, whiz!”, “Oh, no!” without ever winking at the audience – he’s in it 100%.
And of course we can’t talk about the performances without the the one and only Dolly Levi, played to perfection with warmth, love, and kindness by the legendary Betty Buckley. She plays a matchmaker out to maneuver herself into Vandergelder’s arms, and she’s the one running the show (both in the narrative, and literally as its star player). Though even as the puppet master pulling the strings, she never condescends or looks down on the lovesick fools around her; she grants everyone a genuine respect and dignity.
As simple as it sounds, this has always been one of the keys to Hello, Dolly! for me; it’s a story of genuine decency, with good people, actively looking to improve their everyday lives into something better. There are no villains, only mismatches; we see (to comedic result) how badly two would-be suitors pair together, as people switch dinner tables, break off engagements, steal forbidden kisses all to find that right person. There is no malice, and no harm in pursuing one’s own happiness.
In the show’s title song, Dolly expresses her nostalgia for days gone by and yearning to get back to that feeling:
I feel the room swayin’ for the band’s playin’
One of my old favorite songs from way back when
So, bridge that gap, fellas, find me an empty lap, fellas
Dolly’ll never go away again.
There was a time in the past when things were better, and Dolly is on her way to regain the joy and satisfaction her life once had. And sometimes it takes the wrong choices to get back on track: whether it’s Cornelius’s dead-end job at Vandergelder’s shop, where he’s underpaid and undervalued; or Irene Malloy’s engagement to Vandergelder, only to find out he’s not the guy for her.
Hello, Dolly! would have taken place 100 years ago, and was a period piece even when it first hit the stage in the 1960s. Despite this time lapse, we can’t help but see ourselves in the places and characters before us though, with people leading lives that are satisfactory but could use room for improvement. Just like for the citizens of Yonkers, perhaps Dolly is here to give us all that push for something more.