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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Connor Theatre, Cleveland


  Ph: Julieta Cervantes

Broadway revivals built around a star present a tricky challenge when they head out on the road. Unless, that is, the producer finds a star of equal magnitude (and greater endurance) to lead the charge out of Times Square and into the hinterland.
Such is the case with the national tour of Hello, Dolly! Betty Buckley is a firecracker, a roman candle, a rocket, as Dolly Gallagher Levi, that irresistible irritant of a meddler in affairs of the heart (and sundry lesser tasks, should you need them). When Buckley builds a number like “Before the Parade Passes By” from a mournful near-whisper to a balcony-blasting anthem of self-determination, she grabs you by the collar and shakes you to life. And when she looks out, somewhere between you in your seat and God in heaven, to chat with her dead husband Ephraim, your cynic’s heart undoubtedly will stir a bit.
These are opposite poles that it takes a true star to master. Bette Midler and Donna Murphy did so for Jerry Zaks’ giddily clip-clopping revival. And now we have Buckley getting that act together – her act – and taking it on the road. The road will be happy.
I write as both critic and fan, having watched Buckley make the transition from Broadway diva capable of levitating roofs to cabaret genius turning down the volume while heightening the emotion in the most intimate of settings. Perhaps “transition” is the wrong word, for on the evidence of her performance this past weekend at Cleveland’s Connor Palace, she’s engaging every one of us as co-conspirator in the loopy machinations of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s tale of the 14th Street matchmaker who sets her sights on Yonkers “half a millionaire” dry-goods grumpmeister Horace Vandergelder. For this is a Dolly Levi who exudes joy like nobody’s business. Or rather, exactly like her business, since joy is, in the end, what she is selling. And Buckley is doing it in a 2,800-seat theater without a passerelle to bring her closer to us, as was the case at the Shubert, where the customers numbered a mere 1,400 per sitting.
Even better news is that Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle have surrounded their star with a first-class cast and ensemble, starting off with the veteran comic actor Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace (reminding us of such great clowns as David Burns and Jack Gilford); Nic Rouleau and Jess LeProto as Horace’s adventure-seeking assistants Cornelius and Barnaby; and especially Analisa Leaming as the hat maker Irene Molloy, whose “Ribbons Down My Back” steals hearts, if not the entire show, much as Kate Baldwin did on Broadway.
Santo Loquasto’s sherbet-hued backdrops and simple sets might almost have gotten lost in the cavernous setting, despite the reduced proscenium, were it not for Natasha Katz’s exquisite lighting. One problem unsolved here, early in the yearlong run, is the sound, which seems to have improved not a bit from 20 or more years ago. It is all disembodied, calling down from the rafters. It’s left to our imagination who might be singing what line. Except for Miss Buckley, of course. There’s never any doubt about the source of those happy notes.


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