WHAT “Hello, Dolly!”
WHERE Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St.
INFO $39-$299; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE A classy takeover by Bernadette Peters.
It’s been just a month since the “Hello, Dolly!” hats (and magnificent hats, they are) were passed from the Tony-winning, seriously adored Bette Midler to Broadway legend Bernadette Peters.
Time to invite the critics, who for the most part will be inclined to compare the two performances. But you won’t get that here. For a variety of reasons, I never saw Midler in the role. We’re starting fresh.
“Bette, who?” is all I have to say. Peters electrifies the Shubert Theatre stage with her warm, finely nuanced take on matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, the multitasking widow who decides to rejoin the human race, with a perfect mix of heartfelt vocals and impeccable comic timing. True, her voice is on the raspy side (she is playing eight shows a week, where Midler got most Tuesday nights off with Donna Murphy stepping in) but it takes nothing away from the many magical moments — among them the renowned title song, of course, but also the life-affirming “Before the Parade Passes By” — that this lavish confection offers up. And never have I seen an audience so primed to love a show, with the applause starting the minute the lights went down and crescendoing at Dolly’s famed strut down the Harmonia Gardens staircase.
Some of that applause was saved for Victor Garber, another newcomer to the production, replacing David Hyde Pierce as the penny-pinching half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, the man Dolly has her sights on. Lacking the musical chops of Peters (or the rest of the cast for that matter), Garber, all rumpled hair and grating New York accent, sells his wonderful material, especially the song “Penny in My Pocket” that’s often cut from the show, with a heavy dose of curmudgeonly charm.
A word, too, for Charlie Stemp as Barnaby Tucker, taking over for Taylor Trensch, now breaking hearts over at “Dear Evan Hansen.” A wonderful dancer, Stemp is delightful as the befuddled sidekick to Gavin Creel’s Tony-winning Cornelius Hackl.
Broadway statistics have noted a marked revenue drop following Midler’s departure, attributed both to the stratospheric prices she was commanding and the typical post-holiday slump. But this production has good bones — Santo Loquasto’s gorgeous costumes and artistic scenery and Jerry Herman’s well-loved score. When the time comes, a way off we hope, for Peters to move on, director Jerry Zaks will surely find another Dolly (one survey says fans want to see Dolly Parton in the part), and in all likelihood, my next question will be, “Bernadette, who?”