Dolly’s in town, and it’s nice to have her back, though her traveling show doesn’t seem to have found its right tempo or temperature. The touring company of Jerry Zaks’ Tony-winning 2017 production of Hello, Dolly! (★★★) might be in for one genteel run at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
For that matter, this staging of Jerry Herman’s classic showhorse musical doesn’t so much run as saunter. There’s trotting, too, by both human and horse, and a high-kicking corps of dancers making the most of Warren Carlyle’s sparkling choreography. Yet the production lacks a certain vigor.
Leading the lavish promenade, Betty Buckley, Broadway’s original Grizabella from Cats and a welcome sight on any stage, serves up a Dolly Gallagher Levi who is warm and endearingly meddlesome. But she doesn’t radiate the chutzpah to be, or have been, the toast of New York, known from Manhattan to Yonkers for poking her matchmaking finger into everybody’s business.
Yes, Dolly’s been feeling low of late, still mourning her dear, departed husband, Ephram. Buckley frames the couple’s love, and the widow’s grief, with moving directness, conveying the pathos underlying Michael Stewart’s script, whether Dolly’s alone onstage with just the memory of Ephram, or leading the band in the first act closer “Before the Parade Passes By.” Still, this lady could stand to polish up her brass if we’re to believe that the whole town’s so glad to see her, or that her imminent arrival at the luxurious Harmonia Gardens Restaurant would send the waitstaff into a giddy song-and-dance of anticipation. “Show some snap, fellas,” exhorts the head waiter, Rudolph (Wally Dunn), and maybe somebody should have told Dolly the same.
A delicate rose, broken and bent, and striving to right herself to her former glory, Buckley’s Dolly perks up in fits and starts. So does the production, most reliably when that sprightly chorus trots or spins through the action, or when bright-eyed Analisa Leaming and Kristen Hahn are on hand as hat shop proprietress Irene Molloy and her daffy shop girl Minnie Fay. The two eligible New York City ladies welcome Dolly’s matchmaking machinations, and strike up sweet, potential love connections with visiting Yonkers shop clerks Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau) and Barnaby Tucker (Sean Burns).
The show’s romance rises with Leaming’s lovely rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back,” and some of the surest comedy rides on Hahn’s smooth timing and twinkly rapport with Burns as her aw-shucks, lovestruck counterpart. In his glee and longing, Barnaby practically leaps from the stage and Burns’ dancing captures all the emotion that Barnaby can hardly contain. Meanwhile, Rouleau supplies energy and physical dexterity, if less dimension, as Irene’s bold beau Cornelius. And Broadway vet Lewis J. Stadlen offers a solid, if unexciting, portrayal of Hay and Feed Store “half-a-millionaire” Horace.
At least Stadlen, among the entire cast, sounds like he’s been to Yonkers. Portraying Horace’s headstrong niece Ermengarde, Morgan Kirner just sounds pained honking out the character’s trademark wail. She and much of the supporting ensemble render shorthand versions of the minor characters. Buckley’s performance as Dolly does the work to engender any interest in Ermengarde or her bland paramour Ambrose (Colin LeMoine). Similarly, it’s Dolly’s regard for Horace that might persuade the audience that she could find something with him more precious than financial security to keep her happy.
Old-fashioned though this vintage musical may be, it’s just progressive enough to acknowledge that a modern woman of 1885 can decide for herself whom to marry, and whether for love or money, or not at all. She can support her husband’s business or maintain her own, be the woman of the house or a woman of the world. The women and men in Hello, Dolly! want and need each other, and even, at times, resort to charades and fabrications. Yet somehow starry-eyed notions of love at first sight, innocent passion, and romantic possibility remain uncorrupted.
The romance is uncorrupted and very well-appointed, courtesy of Santo Loquasto’s award-winning costumes. The colorful, sumptuous period wardrobe is better presented than Loquasto’s sets, which appear awkwardly deposited on the Opera House stage, not quite at home. Like Dolly herself, the show’s still glowin’ and crowin’ and looking swell — but just doesn’t feel as if its indomitable spirit is right where it belongs.
Hello, Dolly! runs through July 7, at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $49 to $159. Call 202-467-4600, or visit www.kennedy-center.org.