The Newest Dolly on the Newest Recording By Peter Filichia
Well, my heart is about to burst. My head is about to pop. Pardon me if my old spirit is showing.
The reason is the new cast album of Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce, Kate Baldwin and Gavin Creel. After Dolly Gallagher Levi and Horace Vandergelder have decided on marriage on Track 16, I return to Track 1 and repeat the process time and time again.
The packaging alone provides a delightful surprise. The album is encased in what’s known in the trade as an “o-card” – a cardboard wrapper – that’s all red with white lettering.
Is this a tribute to David Merrick, the show’s original producer, who liked red so much that “David Merrick red” became an actual Broadway idiom?
Ah, but when you slide the actual plastic jewel box out of the o-card, you see a very close replication of the cover of the platinum-selling 1964 original cast album, where the dominant color was black.
(Is this to reference David Merrick’s black heart?)
Midler’s name in the same pink as Carol Channing’s and the show’s title is still in red – nay, David Merrick red. Then, however, come two notable differences. The names of bookwriter Michael Stewart and composer-lyricist Jerry Herman are in much larger typeface than they were way back when. Although by 1964 Stewart had had two hits (Bye Bye Birdie and Carnival) and Herman one near hit (Milk and Honey), they didn’t truly become part of the Broadway elite until Dolly. Their new billing here reflects that achievement.
What’s inside the jewel box is, of course, far more exciting. Those who have been lucky enough to see the revival (and have caused the lines at Hamilton to be a lit-tle shorter) already know this. When I attended, I saw an audience who came to display their love for Bette Midler, but by the time she did “Before the Parade Passes By,” they were just as much in love with Dolly Levi herself. Still, when David Hyde Pierce says at the end of the show “Wonderful woman!” we know he’s talking about Midler as well as Dolly.
If you’re an out-of-towner or in-towner who can’t snag a ticket, this album will be heaven on earth. It’s an album not to die for, but to live for. So if you can’t call on Dolly in person, you can at least do it electronically with the sixth major English-language recording.
Dolly has always made her entrance on one of those new horse-drawn open cars with her face obscured behind a newspaper. In this production, it’s “The Sun,” which is most fitting, for Midler’s Dolly constantly shines like that big star. Although those solely listening to her on the album won’t be able to see her winning smile, Midler manages to make everyone somehow “hear” it.
Midler brings the single-minded determination that the role requires. Although she says in brass-tacks fashion that matchmaking is “a living,” we come to see that for her it’s not a profession, but a genuine calling, a vocation. She’s so pleased when her pairings work out, although she always knew they would.
The way she sings “My aplomb at cosmetic art” convinces us that there aren’t only two women on Broadway right now who are masters of make-up. When Midler cries out, “All aboard!” she crows it with such resolve that anyone who didn’t remotely have the price of a railroad ticket would get on the train and worry about being thrown off later.
Midler smoothly glides over the word “glide” in “Dancing” and in “So Long Dearie,” goes deliciously low on the word “low.” And if there’s ever been any doubt that Midler is inherently musical, hear her “Wow, wow, wow, fellas!” which sounds like a “wah, wah, wah” from a trombone’s silver-plated mute. In fact, if you give her an old trombone or give her an old baton, she’d probably be able to play the former and twirl the latter. Frankly, I wouldn’t doubt that she could do both at once. Dolly regrets that she’s “only one life to give for my country.” We regret that she’s only done one Broadway musical in the last half century. But she’s here now, and we can only hope that Midler’ll never go away again.
So what do we have that we didn’t have on the original Channing, Martin and Bailey albums? The real lagniappe is “Penny in My Pocket.” This patter song that originally ended the first act when Dolly was trying out in Detroit was an elaborate production number. Chorus members, to prove Vandergelder’s half-a-million wealth, brought out literally 106 (yes, 106) props from a grandfather clock to china dishes – all as Vandergelder told us how to succeed in business without really spending.
“But,” composer-lyricist Jerry Herman once told me, “as much as people liked the song, we could feel that they didn’t want to know about him at the end of Act One; they wanted to know about her.” And that’s why Vandergelder’s “Penny in My Pocket” gave way to Dolly’s “Before the Parade Passes By.”
It was the right decision, and it’s still the way Act One ends now at the Shubert. But before the second act begins with the usual “Elegance,” out comes David Hyde Pierce through the vertical split in the curtain to sing it. He hasn’t a single prop to his name, but he does have funny lyrics and a tuneful melody. (Of course it’s tuneful; it’s Jerry Herman!)
Also included here is “The Waiters’ Gallop,” where they show to music how busy the Harmonia Gardens is on any given night. It functions as a delicious appetizer before the magnificent entrée of the title song that everyone was singing, humming and whistling in early 1964 – one that many now will again.
Another nifty addition is one of my favorite lines in all musicals: Irene Malloy (in “Dancing”) states “Oh, Dolly! The world is full of wonderful things!” It is, isn’t it? And isn’t Hello, Dolly! one of them?
Kate Baldwin is an Irene full of Irish moxie. She too like Dolly will now “rejoin the human race” after having observed a decent period of mourning. But notice that Dolly does it through a march (“Before the Parade Passes By”) that’s befitting a 14th Street Parade, while Irene does it plaintively in “Ribbons Down My Back.” By the time Irene ends, though, she’s strongly singing the last few lines and is matching Dolly’s resolve.
Charles Nelson Reilly was endearing as Cornelius, but Gavin Creel shows us what a real voice can do with “It Only Takes a Moment.” (That’s the song,” Herman told me, “that I thought had a chance to be a hit. I never imagined the title song doing anything but being wonderful in the show.”)
When Dolly opened in 1964, critics made a point of stating that the chorus was one of the vocally finest in years. History has repeated itself. This ensemble has the joy and ebullience of the original – but the men who partake of the title number do even more.
On every previous recording, the waiters – including Danny, Hank, Harry, Louie, Manny and the thinner Stanley – have sounded excited to see Dolly. However these waiters put more love into their voices. And don’t we all love to see Dolly loved as well as appreciated?
If you’re at home and seated while listening to the title tune, you may be moved enough to emulate the theatergoers who jump out of their seats. Yes! Don’t be shy! Go ahead! Stand! Do try this at home! Give both respect and enthusiasm for this magnificent showstopper that celebrates a cherished customer
(On the other hand, if you’re listening on your car stereo, stay seated unless you have a convertible and you’re already parked.)
The orchestrations have been gently massaged by Tony-winner Larry Hochman. (Note that accentuated banjo in “Motherhood.”) Musical director Andy Einhorn has ordered a more leisurely tempo on “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” (but Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest). Otherwise, he gives the show a musical hotfoot.
So does the new recording have any advantage over the revival? Yes. While I was at the Shubert, I hated to have the wondrous event interrupted by an intermission, which seemed to last longer than Camelot in Toronto. The album is a non-stop ride, so join me on board that happiness express and savor the new Hello, Dolly!
Preorder the Hello, Dolly cast album today here before it’s available on May 12, 2017.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.