The national tour of director Jerry Zaks’ exuberantly received revival of “Hello, Dolly!” has finally reached the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. And though it brings us neither Bette Midler, who won a Tony Award for the title role in 2017, nor Bernadette Peters, who replaced Midler on Broadway to equally warm praise, this show cannot be accused of shortchanging us on star power.
Betty Buckley plays Dolly.
Betty Buckley, as in the Tony-winning, “Memory”-singing Grizabella in “Cats.” Star of “Sunset Boulevard,” “Pippin,” “1776” and “Grey Gardens.” Diva with a capital D.
Many may remember her as Abby on TV’s “Eight Is Enough,” but she has appeared in dozens of films and produced 18 solo albums in her 50-year career.
Recaps of the plot, unfortunately, seldom succeed in conveying the goofy charms of Michael Stewart’s book (based on the Thornton Wilder play “The Matchmaker”) and Jerry Herman’s songs, but here goes: Dolly Gallagher Levi is a middle-aged marriage broker in 1880s New York City who also runs side hustles including music lessons, long-distance hauling, varicose-vein reduction and surgical corset-reboning, which she advertises with business cards pulled from a carpet bag.
When Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy grain merchant in Yonkers (then a rural outpost), hires Dolly to find him a wife, she selects the perfect woman: herself. The problem is that Horace — a stingy, ill-tempered misogynist — doesn’t want to marry her. So Dolly devises a madcap plan to trick him into proposing. Along the way she arranges matches for Horace’s niece and his two underpaid employees.
The action bounces along, neatly interspersed with sprightly songs (lushly orchestrated by Larry Hochman) and peppy, unabashedly silly dances (choreographed by Warren Carlyle in homage to Gower Champion, who directed and choreographed the original Broadway production. Santo Loquasto’s colorful period costumes come together with his scenic backdrops to create living paintings.
If the supporting parts and story lines are cheerfully cartoonish, written mostly like ham sandwiches, the cast members bite into them with gusto. Lewis J. Stadlen is consistently entertaining as the curmudgeonly Horace. Nic Rouleau and Jess LeProtto, who play Horace’s dimwitted clerks, and Analisa Leaming and Kristen Hahn as their love interests, are all fun to watch.
Still, it’s hard to ignore a niggling feeling that these stories aren’t the focus of “Hello, Dolly!” The point is, in fact, to give the audience as many chances as possible to admire its leading lady. Dolly has to be played by a star. If she weren’t, would we be so captivated by our first glimpse of her, popping out from behind a newspaper on a horse-drawn trolley? Would we scream so hysterically as she poses at the top of a staircase in her red sequined dress and plumed headpiece?
Buckley as Dolly constitutes a code red for musical theater fanatics. The star missed much of the show’s weeklong run in Costa Mesa last month because of illness, making her appearance in Hollywood that much more special. And this particular production is so sumptuously designed, we’re not likely to see its equal anytime soon.
But it must be said that “Hello, Dolly!” may be one of the weirder musicals in America’s canon. For me, the oddest thing about it is an unapologetic focus on money. (The first five words of Dolly’s final monologue? “Money, money, money, money, money.”)
Money — the having or not having of it, the impulse to obtain more of it, its power to make odious people look attractive — is the principal engine of “Hello, Dolly!”
Why would clever, multitalented, tenderhearted Dolly, who enjoyed a blissful marriage with the late Ephraim Levi, have any interest in legally binding herself to awful old Horace? She tells us from the outset: his money.
Meanwhile, when Horace’s two clerks escape his tyranny for a day of adventure, they’re too worried about their finances to have a very good time. They spend so much time squinting into a change purse, counting and recounting coins, it made me nervous. I kept patting for my wallet.
There is even a character named Evangeline Money, an imaginary heiress Dolly uses to confuse Horace.
By the curtain, though, Dolly had brought me around to her view of money: “It’s all in how you use it,” she said. “Money ... pardon the expression ... is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow!” Not a bad reminder in our own gilded age.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays; ends Feb. 17
Tickets: $35 and up
Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Support our coverage of the local arts scene by becoming a digital subscriber.
See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.