Review: Despite some issues, SHN’s ‘Hello Dolly!’ is big, old-school Broadway fun

Hello, Dolly!
Dolly Levi (Betty Buckley) dazzles with her multi-talents in “Hello Dolly!,” running through March 17th at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre. (Julieta Cervantes photo)

There is a charming moment in “Hello Dolly!” which is simplistic in its approach but feels like big, old-school Broadway.

The show’s structure is all about its title character, the do-it-all matchmaker who charms the pants off the locals in both her hometown of Yonkers, New York and now in the grand metropolis of Manhattan. And the moment I speak of is all about the show’s signature song.

As the Broadway star Betty Buckley prims and prances with measured simplicity downstage, a group of handsome, dancing gents serenade here. There is nothing special in her movements, but there doesn’t need to be. This moment is a throwback, a tip of her humongous hat to a time where huge Broadway starlets were the talk of the town. The lyrics are certainly not Shakespeare, but the harmonies are rich, the sound full.

The national tour of “Hello Dolly!,” with its sure-footed choreography, snappy and simplistic dialogue and so many wonderful technical and design aspects is plenty of fun. It does a solid, bang-up job of giving out a ton of eye candy, smoothly caressing the nostalgia for its audience.

The show follows around Dolly Levi (a delightful Betty Buckley, who is a spry 72-years young), as she begins to find her way through New York City. She is a widow, yet the approval from the spirit of her husband weighs heavily upon her psyche. There is also a love interest in Horace Vandergelder (charming as can be Lewis J. Stadlen), who hires her to find him a wife, but it doesn’t take a genius to see where this is headed. He also has two bumbling employees Cornelius Hackl (dashing and warm Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby (triple threat Jess LeProtto and his sweet feet). Both Cornelius and Barnaby decide they have to skip their mundane jobs and sneak off to the big city and become more interesting, which includes finding a girl to kiss.

And daggum it, there are a couple of swell girls who just may be kissable. The gents land at the shop of one Irene Malloy (A delightful Analisa Leaming), who may just be a match for Vandergelder. She is flanked by her hilariously charming assistant Minnie (a fun and silly turn from Kristen Hahn). Some feeble plotting sees the fellas doing their darndest to come off as interesting, having about .90 cents to live out their big city dreams.

While the show is certainly steeped in nostalgia, with much of it just sort of fun and goofy, some components of the show have not aged well. At all. Consider the number “It Takes a Woman,” which by the title alone makes it seem like this ain’t going down a good road. Check out where a group of gentlemen sing these lyrics, for starters:

It takes a woman all powdered and pink
To joyously clean out the drain in the sink
And it takes an angel with long golden lashes
And soft dresden fingers
For dumping the ashes

I’m not sure what era of musical theatre thought that penning lyrics that effectively relegated a woman to their mad skills in the kitchen was a great idea, sung by a bunch of dudes. To trot out this kind of dreck under the auspices of the golden age of Broadway is disingenuous, and songs like these can keep going right down the drains they speak of.

When it comes to nostalgia, the production has a lot going for it in ways that are quite comfortable. Consider the largess of the choreography, beautifully executed by a fantastic group of dancers led by choreographer Warren Carlyle. So much of the moments are awash in creativity, even using lots of food props in a wildly inventive staging of the hilarious restaurant scene.

And certainly, the colors that load the stage are distinctly varied. The Tony-nominated scenic design and Tony-winning costume design by Santo Loquasto are rich and fulfilling. These colors are assisted greatly by dazzling lighting by Natasha Katz.

Maybe the most enjoyable aspect of the show is in its tribute to a bygone era, and that’s how it has approached its star. The role has been led by some of the most accomplished females in theatre history, women like Channing, Midler, Peters and now Buckley. It’s what makes the show feel different than what’s in our canon at present. And despite the antiquated feelings towards women in some of the music, this difference that’s rooted in nostalgia is quite a good thing.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

SHN presents the national tour of “Hello Dolly!”
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Michael Stewart
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Based on “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder
The Word: Despite some very antiquated lyrics that don’t play well, “Hello Dolly!” is a big throwback highlighting its title star.
Stars: 4 out of 5
Running time: Two hours, 30 minutes
SHN Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
Through March 17th
Tickets range from $56 – $256
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com

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