BY SANDY STAGGS
Channing. Streisand. Midler. And now Buckley.
These are the icons we associate with that indelible, vivacious matriarch and matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi over the decades since Thornton Wilder’s farce was turned into a musical play that held the record for the most Tony awards for 37 years.
And the audience at the Peace Center knew they had royalty in the house as the national tour of the decadent classic “Hello, Dolly” finally stopped in Greenville Tuesday evening after none months on the road with the one-and-only Betty Buckley.
New York Magazine doesn’t call her “the voice of Broadway” for nothing. Known for her early work in television (“Eight is Enough”) and film (“Carrie”), and her Tony-winning turn as Grizabella in “Cats,” as well as replacing Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard,” Buckley is a bonafide star, and “Hello, Dolly” is a nothing short of a star vehicle.
From her innocuous and unexpected entrance among the residents bustling on a busy 1895 New York street to that highly-anticipated titular number set at the top of the stairs of Harmonia Gardens, the most luxurious and expensive restaurant in all of New York, Buckley had not only a troupe of dancing waiters at her beck and call, but also nearly 2,500 people under her spell with a partial standing ovation (encouraged by Buckley who even took a bow at one point).
These accolades and the outpouring of adoration were well-earned. Buckley is a legend and flawless in her vocal delivery (with a hint of Carol Channing vibrato), and her embrace of this loveable con artist in a dress, who will do whatever it takes to survive whether it’s repairing corset or varicose veins, giving dance or mandolin lessons, or finding a mate for her client (or as we discover, herself).
She meddles, she arranges, she puts her hand in. And as a widow and as a woman using the only power she has – business acumen and a sharp mind – just as the suffragette movement is gaining traction in America, Buckley’s Dolly charms us all.
I guarantee you most of the audience would have shown up to see Buckley even if “Hello, Dolly” was not the incredible show it is. The producers have spared no expense in this mammoth, gorgeous, brilliant and decadent revival that starred her predecessor, the Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, who easily snatched the Tony for Best Actress.
Framed within a Vaudevillian aesthetic, the look of “Hello, Dolly” is whimsical and detached behind the red velvet curtain, with cascading crisply-painted backdrops and meticulously-dressed sets, horse-drawn carriages and a trolley. The scenic design is by Santo Loquasto who also won the Tony for his candy-colored costumes for this 30-plus strong cast.
Another Tony-nominee, the clever Lewis J. Stadlen plays the object of Dolly’s affection, or at least attention. As the half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, Stadlen is delightful as the bumbling penny-pinching widower (“Penny in My Pocket”) who is no match for the wise-cracking Dolly.
The ebullient and energetic Nic Rouleau (who I immediately thought was a missionary form “Book of Mormon” only to have that fact confirmed in the Playbill – 2,500 performances) is the lead lovelorn clerk Cornelius who has his heart set on Analisa Leaming’s tall and pretty Irene, a millenary store clerk.
Sean Burns plays his co-worker Barnaby and a Kristen Hahn (who played Phoebe in the national tour of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” that stopped here at the Peace Center) makes quite an impression as his date, Minnie.
And a special shout out to the wails and irascible wails of Morgan Kirner as Ermengarde (Horace’s daughter).
“Hello, Dolly” is directed by Jerry Zaks and was written by Michael Stewart with music and lyrics by the great Jerry Herman.
Hurry and catch Ms. Buckley and the cast of “Hello, Dolly” before the parade passes by.
“Hello, Dolly” continues through Sunday, June 2 at the Peace Center, 300 South Main Street in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 467-3000 or visit http://www.peacecenter.org.