TAMPA — A steaming locomotive pulls onto the stage of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, into a depot full of townspeople in pastel topcoats and long dresses with bustles. Throughout Hello, Dolly!, they'll put on their Sunday clothes about 12 different times as couples pair off and dancing waiters slide down banisters. Jerry Zaks' revival of the hit musical, which captivated Broadway audiences in 2017, had nearly sold out out Tuesday's opening night. It's a fun show, an amplified version of New York nostalgia that doesn't pretend to be anything other than a feel-good musical.
But it certainly is that. Broadway stalwart Betty Buckley stars as Dolly Gallagher, a self-styled matchmaker and fixer who excels at fixing up others. The 1983 Tony winner (for her portrayal of Grizabella in the original Cats) returned to the stage Tuesday after taking several days off due to illness. Whether she had it to give or didn't, she reached deep and gave it anyway. She follows a string of legends since the original show opened in 1964, from Carol Channing to Pearl Bailey to Bette Midler, and brought a certain delicacy to the role.
This revival also brings its architects front and center. Costumes by Santo Loquasto pop with color you might see in a bakery, lavenders next to banana yellows and peach, on around the spectrum. Warren Carlyle's choreography cannot be denied, and these singing waiters can also catch air.
The cumulative effect is charm, which helps there isn't a lot more to this than a visual spectacle. At the same time, Buckley's performance drills down into what substance the show does have, namely whether this expert in other people's relationships can get over the long-ago loss of her husband and find love. She also held the stage in two-minute solo sequence, wordlessly devouring every last morsel of food in a gold-brocaded private dining room, drinking out of the gravy boat and checking her hair in the silver plate she had just polished off, the actions of someone who relishes all of life.
Her famous voice — the "voice of Broadway," New York magazine once called it — was not there on Tuesday. But Buckley did what stars are supposed to. She showed up and showed up big time.
This production got a terrific vocal boost from its two other principal players, Nic Rouleau and Analisa Leaming as Cornelius Hackl and Irene Molloy. Rouleau's tenor lead into the reprise of It Only Takes a Moment marked one of the show's highlights. Lewis Stadlen played a lovable curmudgeon so well, it was hard to warm up to the "lovable" part until the end. These elements plus outstanding costuming and choreography add up to a pleasing production, the musical equivalent of an ice cream sundae. Enjoy.
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