Jerry Zaks & Betty Buckley Make a Perfect Match
by Rosa del Duca
“It’s going to be so colorful,” a woman gushed before the curtain rose on “Hello, Dolly!” starring Broadway legend Betty Buckley at SHN’s Golden Gate Theater. “Colorful” is putting it mildly.
The stage transforms into New York in 1885, with immense, gorgeous backdrops that appear like magical tapestries. In front, the actors sport vibrant 19th Century costumes—the women in eye-catching bright pink, yellow, and green bustle dresses, with white parasols, and extravagant plumed hats.
Center-stage, the grande dame Dolly Levi (husky-voiced, delightful Betty Buckley) hypnotizes us all. She commands our attention.
Broadway Betty Buckley shines as the aging matchmaker looking to land a wealthy second husband. Buckley is flawless, singing in her signature throaty tones (reminiscent of the original Dolly, the late Carol Channing). Buckley delivers wily, zany diatribes, or holds us hostage with brilliant physical storytelling.
Just when you think screwball comedy is her greatest asset, Buckley switches smoothly to drama, pleading with the spirit of her first husband to let her return to a full, rich life. She has been emotionally numb since he passed away. These variations of hilarity and reflection leaves us with a full, soulful satisfaction.
Each scene is a delight. Seamless and stunning set changes whisk us from the streets of New York to Yonkers, where we meet rich curmudgeon Horace Vandergelder (excitable Lewis J. Stadlen) and his two clerks. His earnest chief clerk, Cornelius Hackl (impressive Nic Rouleau) uses his strong, clear voice to fill the theater like thick honey. Diminutive assistant clerk Barnaby Tucker (adorable, jumping bean Jess LeProtto) plays off Hackl perfectly–a laugh-out-loud duo.
Back in New York, we meet two unlikely matches for Cornelius and Barnaby: young widow Irene Molloy (glowing, mischievous Analisa Leaming) and scandal-loving Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn). The tables turn as Cornelius and Barnaby find themselves trapped in Irene’s hat shop—precisely when Dolly conspires to ruin Irene’s chances of marrying Horace. The farce and wit had me giggling out loud.
The music soars, and the live orchestra complements the stellar cast’s superb voices. Drama, music, and showmanship climax at infamous Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where waiters leap and dance like acrobats. The men catch flying plates and turn platters into percussion: their sheer athleticism and precision thrill us.
“Hello, Dolly!” is always moving, always engaging. Huge credit goes to four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks and talented choreographer Warren Carlyle.
In this era of #metoo, I wondered whether the plot and the dialogue about matching wives and husbands would feel dated and sexist. But the writing holds up, and becomes more satirical, bolstered by first-rate acting. It’s abundantly clear that women hold the power. Go say, “Hello!” to Dolly while she’s visiting San Francisco. A must see for lovers of great musicals.
Photos by Julieta Cervantes
“Hello, Dolly!” —lyrics and music by Jerry Herman, book by Michael Stewart, directed by Jerry Zaks, choregraphed by Warren Carlyle, at SHN Golden Gate Theatre, through Sunday, March 17, 2019. Info: shnsf.com
Cast: Betty Buckley, Lewis J. Stadlen, Nic Rouleau, Analisa Leaming, Jess LeProtto, Kristen Hahn, Garett Hawe, Morgan Kirner, and Jessica Sheridan.
Ensemble: Maddy Apple, Daniel Beeman, Brittany Bohn, Giovanni Bonaventura, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Whitney Cooper, Julian DeGuzman, Wally Dunn, Alexandra Frohlinger, Dan Horn, Corey Hummerston, Madison Johnson, Nathan Keen, Beth Kirkpatrick, Ben Lanham, Ian Liberto, Kyle Samuel, Scott Shedenhelm, Timothy Shew, Maria Cristina Slye, Cassie Austin Taylor, Davis Wayne, Brandon L. Whitmore, and Connor Wince.