The first time I saw a stage run of "Hello, Dolly!" was in 1994 at the old Shubert Theater in Chicago with Carol Channing reprising the Broadway role she made so famous when the Jerry Herman musical first debuted in 1964.
Despite the risk of sounding as though I'm intoning a "Goodbye, Dolly!" stance, that brush with Channing, which still ranks as one of my favorite moments of stage magic, is also my last time seeing a production of "Hello, Dolly!"
It's not a musical that seems to be produced very often.
For that reason, that fact that Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. is presenting a full-scale, no-expense-spared run of "Hello, Dolly!" for the holidays – now until Jan. 5 – is very good reason to get up and become with the magic of meddling-but-well-intentioned Dolly Gallagher Levi.
True, Channing, who turns 93 in January, is an impossible act to follow.
But it can be done, and has been done by many, some with more success, than others.
Over the decades, everyone from Pearl Bailey, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable and Phyllis Diller have been under the trademark wide-brimmed hat. Alas, all of these gals are now long gone, while Channing is still going strong. (Much to Channing's chagrin, Barbra Streisand got cast to play the title character for the 1969 film version.)
For this new Drury Lane run, it's Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba as Dolly Levi. She received the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance in Lincoln Center Theatre's "Contact."
In case it's been a while since you've spent time watching "Dolly" and seeing what she does best, "Hello, Dolly!" is set at the turn-of-the-century, with the widowed matchmaker Dolly cunningly negotiating marriages for others through a series of comic romantic entanglements, while ultimately setting her sight on a wealthy possible find for herself. Her target is frugal "half-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder, played with just the right amount of vinegar and stern stance by actor David Lively.
Ziemba as Dolly does have a definite twinkle in her eyes. Yet, she doesn't quite capture every one of Dolly's silly and still sensational qualities, which work to have everyone, including an audience, eating from her hand.
The breezy, just more than two hour, one intermission musical has many fine moments and charming scenes, as re-imagined by director Rachel Rockwell. All of the memorable songs, such as "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," "Before the Parade Passes By" and "It Only Takes A Moment," help to make this production feel like Christmas-come-early for audience enjoyment. Add to this Kevin Depinet's stage design coupled with Theresa Ham's eye-popping costumes, and this "Hello, Dolly!" ranks as a gift that keeps on giving for new generations to enjoy. With the bonus of brimming comedic and song talents courtesy of Jeff Diebold, Maggie Portman, Lee Slobotkin and Emily Rohm, as the love-crossed young couples, it's easy to leave the theater smiling.
Tickets are $35 to $74 with the higher range seats including lunch and dinner options. FYI: (630) 530-0111 or drurylane.com.