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Review: Betty Buckley attempts to freshen up 'Hello, Dolly!'

Editors note: The review was written after a November performance at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

You may think that “Hello, Dolly!” needs a sparkly personality in the lead role, a yuk-yuk-yukster overflowing with show-bizzy fizz.

And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. As evidence, look no farther than Bette Midler’s headlinemaking turn in the 2017 Broadway revival of the musical comedy that bowed on the Great White Way in 1964 with a magnetic Carol Channing.

Now, it’s Betty Buckley’s (“Cats,” “Sunset Boulevard” and TV’s “Eight Is Enough”) turn in a national tour making its second South Florida stop at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach Dec. 11-16.

Buckley, of course, brings something else to the role — a vulnerability and fragility that is frequently at odds with the broad humor of the show.

Sure, some may feel that “Hello, Dolly!” needs more razzle-dazzle to shake off some of the show’s dust. Great as they are, the sherbet-hued costumes just aren’t enough to make this ol’ chestnut fresh again. Buckley is uncomfortable with the elbow-nudge, jokey nature of the production. Her interpretation is a thoughtful and emotionally grounded performance, which allows the handful of quiet moments to resonate.

For those who have never seen a production or caught the 1969 movie version starring Barbra Streisand, the musical set in 1890s New York is based on Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker.” It tells the story of marriage broker Dolly Levi (Buckley), who travels to Yonkers to find a match for the miserly “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen).

Vandergelder is hoping to pop the question to milliner Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming) back in New York. But Vandergelder’s store clerks, Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby Tucker (Jess LeProtto), have decided to sneak off to Manhattan, as well, for a bit of adventure. Dolly’s penchant for meddling soon pairs off everyone — and yes, we mean everyone — in romances, including herself.

The score by Miami Beach resident Jerry Herman includes “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Elegance,” “It Only Takes a Moment,” “It Takes a Woman,” “Before the Parade Passes By” and, of course, that crowd pleaser of a title song.

The cast delivers those songs in glorious form. Buckley and Rouleau, in particular, are in fine voice. Buckley’s voice is as warm and full of depth as a Merlot. Rouleau’s tenor is strong and true (props to Arsht’s crystal-clear amplification).

And yet the performance has a weariness about it. Buckley’s pep pooped out halfway through the running time of two hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

There is another aspect, though, that you cannot dismiss: This staging has a legend in an iconic role. There is a thrill in that. In this case, it’s a languid thrill that occasionally bubbles up to the surface, but it’s a thrill, nonetheless. “Hello, Dolly!” feels as good as running into a long-lost pal. That much is true. But they may want to ease up on that exclamation point in the title.

 

“Hello, Dolly!” is Dec. 11-16 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $28-$99. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org.

rhagwood@southflorida.com

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