HELLO, DOLLY! is a rollicking musical comedy. Tunefully adapted from Thornton Wilder’s kinetic farce The Matchmaker, the show is a delightful romp through nineteenth century New York. So why, last night, did I watch most of the first act with a lump in my throat? Why, before we even reached the intermission, were my friend and I both reduced to tears?
There is something intangibly lovely, bittersweet, and deeply moving about HELLO, DOLLY!, particularly in the glorious revival now playing at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. Yes, the show is hilarious; several times in last night’s performance, the action was brought to a dead halt as the audience roared with laughter. But it’s also delicately poignant and beautiful.
Two-time Tony Award winner Donna Murphy, who has assumed the title role while Bette Midler is on vacation, will continue to play Dolly Gallagher Levi at Tuesday night performances. Ms. Murphy’s Dolly is a tough New York broad with a vaudevillian bravado, a commanding voice, and a tender vulnerability. At times, she is all limbs, quirkily dancing with flexed feet and wide eyes. But in her quiet moments, Ms. Murphy embodies all the fears and weariness of a woman who has lived many difficult years since losing the love of her life. Dolly may be scrappy and opportunistic, but at her core, she’s lonely.
Maybe this is why the show has endured, and why my friend and I were so deeply moved. Sure, the costumes are sumptuous, the songs are exquisite, and the choreography is fresh and lively. But it’s Michael Stewart’s brilliant libretto – an artful balance of humor and pathos – that makes this show timeless.
HELLO, DOLLY! is the story of six unfulfilled people who discover that life has not, in fact, passed them by. Three of the characters (Dolly, Horace, and Irene) have buried a loving spouse, and have long since resigned themselves to a life without love. Cornelius has been so sheltered that he’s lived to the ripe old age of thirty-three without kissing – or even speaking to – a girl. And Barnaby and Minnie Fay are so young that they can’t even imagine what life could hold in store.
Yet not one of them – not the widows, not the innocents, not the curmudgeonly old businessman – stops trying. They all persevere; they all push through.
So when Cornelius tells Barnaby, “Out there, there’s a world outside of Yonkers,” we join his quest for adventure; we all yearn to find a life worth living. When Irene wears ribbons down her back to “try to make it easier to find me,” we desperately hope that love will glance her way. And when Dolly gently guides Cornelius in taking his first dancing steps, we look at these five lonely people, listen to this gorgeous Jerry Herman melody, and ache for them to find each other, embracing a life filled with love.
And then Dolly, left alone, asks her late husband for permission to remarry: “I’ve decided to rejoin the human race,” she says. “And Ephraim… I want you to give me away.” Everyone in that theatre last night hungered for Dolly to find love; to go and taste Saturday’s high life before the parade passes her by.
And, along with Dolly, we all recognized a simple truth: Despite hardships and defeats, despite money problems and heartaches, we all yearn to rediscover what Irene, the young widow who has found a new love, breathlessly exclaims:
“Oh, Dolly! The world is full of wonderful things!”
HELLO, DOLLY! is currently playing at the Shubert Theatre. For more information, visit hellodollyonbroadway.com. If you’d like to present HELLO, DOLLY! at your theatre or school, check out our HELLO, DOLLY! show page and contact us for availability in your area.