Before the parade passes by, you really owe it to yourself to see the national tour of “Hello, Dolly!” at the Peace Center.
This dream production, sparkling and funny, stars Betty Buckley along with a dynamite supporting cast.
Buckley, at 71, has enjoyed an active 50-year career in TV and film, but it’s so nice to have this Tony-Award winner back where she belongs: centerstage, as the meddlesome maven of matchmaking Dolly Levi.
You probably recall the story of the 1964 show: Dolly is a middle-aged marriage broker in 1890s New York City who also delves into side gigs such as music lessons and varicose-vein reduction.
When Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy grain merchant in Yonkers, hires Dolly to find him a wife, she chooses herself. Horace, however, is not interested, so Dolly creates a scheme to trick him into proposing.
At the heart of the story is a simple but powerful message of relishing life and love. It’s an antidote for an age of disharmony.
Buckley’s Dolly is chatty and irrepressible, nimble of foot and vocally commanding. Buckley’s clarion soprano has mellowed to a still-formidable alto that she uses to deliver songs with pizzazz. Buckley occasionally tugs at the heartstrings, too, as when Dolly speaks softly to her late husband Ephraim.
The Peace Center this season has hosted terrific modern shows such as “Hamilton” and “Come From Away,” but it’s a pleasure to see a golden-age classic like “Hello, Dolly!” beautifully rendered.
This production is the national touring version of the staging that won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Revival.
It’s a big production, too, with a cast of more than 30. When all voices combine on Jerry Herman’s show-stopping ensemble numbers like “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By” and the title song, the sound in the Peace Center Concert Hall is rapturous.
Michael Stewart’s book, based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” is a delight, brimming with one-liners like this nugget from the grouchy Horace: “Ninety-nice percent of the people in the world are fools and the rest of us are in great danger of contagion.”
Veteran Broadway director Jerry Zaks highlights the show’s outsized humor. Characters are broadly portrayed, with physical comedy verging on the farcical at times – particularly in the daffy hat shop scene. Warren Carlyle is responsible for the athletic choreography, with a dozen waiters aleaping in the famous Act II dining episode.
Sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto are eye-poppingly lavish.
Lewis J. Stadlen is a hoot as the gruff, comically misogynistic Horace.
The four main supporting actors are pitch perfect. Nic Rouleau and Sean Burns play Horace’s long-suffering employees Cornelius and Barnaby with bright-eyed restless energy. They fall for two hat-shop girls, Irene and Minnie. Analisa Leaming’s Irene is as perky an ingenue as might be expected but she also exhibits the assertive self-possession of a young woman who knows what she wants. Leaming offers a lovely account of the ballad “Ribbons Down My Back.” Kristen Hahn is the spirited Minnie.
Conductor Robert Billig leads the powerful, vibrant orchestra – basically, a big band combo with strings – featuring several local musicians.
This charming, uproarious “Hello Dolly!” continues through Sunday. For tickets, call the Peace Center at 864-467-3000 or visit www.peacecenter.org.
World-class Greenville: This past Thursday night, you could have caught the legendary Paul McCartney on one side of downtown Greenville (at the BSW Arena) or you have caught the legendary Betty Buckley in “Hello, Dolly!” on the other side of downtown (at the Peace Center).
“The world is full of wonderful things,” says Irene Molloy, with tears in her eyes.
For those of us in the Upstate, it certainly is. Lucky we.
Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Greenville Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.