Authors Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart
At Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets: BroadwayInChicago.com; $27-$95. Runs through: Nov. 17
Broadway in Chicago's touring Hello Dolly! is a gigantic spectacle that has everything a lavish musical needs: rainbow gowns, fleets of impeccably timed dancers, grand set-pieces, perfect pitch, and a gleefully mugging Broadway veteran at the helm. It's perfect; so why does it feel like a bit of cotton candy dissolving in water?
Director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle have crafted an inoffensive production that takes no risks, has no speaking roles for actors of color, and offers minimal commentary on life in 2018. But if you're mostly on board for one woman's descent down a red carpeted staircase while a chorus of waiters sing her name, you've come to the right place.
It's 1895 and cranky Yonkers half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder ( Lewis J. Stadlen ), has decided to take a second wife. He consults Dolly Gallagher Levi ( Betty Buckley ) to arrange the match. Dolly however, would much rather have Horace's estate and fortune to herself. She schemes of ways to introduce him to unsuitable women, woo him and trick a marriage proposal out of him.
To add to the chaos, Dolly has also promised to help artist Ambrose Kemper ( Garrett Hawe ) to wed Horace's niece Ermengarde ( Morgan Kirner ), despite her uncle's objections. Oh, and Horace's shop clerks, Cornelius ( Nic Rouleau ) and Barnaby ( Jess LeProtto ) have stumbled into the fray, inadvertently tricking a widowed milliner Irene Molloy ( AnaLisa Leaming ) and her apprentice Minnie Fay ( Kristen Hahn ) into thinking they are wealthy playboys. Of course there's singing and dancing, that's the point of having an exclamation point in the title, right?
Betty Buckley's Dolly will have you eating out of her hand. She has the beating heart, the soaring vocal, and the comic timing ( holding just long enough for those balcony laughs ) you've been wanting
Supporting the grand dame are Lewis J. Stadlen, simmering with cartoonish gruff as Vandergelder, and Jess LeProtto speaking volumes with just spinning arms and feet as Barnaby. Nic Rouleau and AnaLisa Leaming flood the mezzanine with perfect vocals as Cornelius and Irene, and Kristen Hahn? Lock up your impressionable commedianes or she will easily inspire a dozen hilarious copycats in Chicago alone.
Make no mistake, this Hello, Dolly! is a testament to what good funding and a ridiculously talented cast can do. But, seeing the safest musical theatre libretto staged with the safest cast only makes you wonder if a more inclusive staging would have made a good production profound. For all this talent and precision, and for the sheer number of costume changes, I wish these artists had something more substantive to say.