Review: ‘Hello, Dolly!’ with Donna Murphy at Shubert Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 21 August 2018
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The rather sumptuous revival of “Hello, Dolly!,” which opened last April with Bette Midler in the lead role to rave reviews (including mine), is closing shortly. But the Divine Miss M wasn’t the only Dolly Gallagher Levi.

In one of the more brilliant instances of alternate casting, Donna Murphy assumed the role last summer when Midler went on vacation, and then continued in the role every Tuesday until Midler was replaced by Bernadette Peters.

Miss Midler stepped back into the role on July 17, reprising her Tony- and OCC-winning performance as matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi for a limited six-week engagement. Joining Midler was her original co-star, David Hyde Pierce, who returned to the role of Horace Vandergelder. Simultaneously, Donna Murphy stepped back into her role as alternate, bringing her incredible energy and peerless musical-comedy technique to the role.

Donna Murphy's final curtain call as Dolly Levi

Donna Murphy’s final curtain call as Dolly Levi

While Murphy’s name doesn’t appear in lights on the Shubert’s marquee, she does command top billing in the Playbill above the title. Her last appearance was Monday night and it was a triumph.

Just to review, the plot revolves around Dolly’s plans to marry a wealthy Yonkers merchant, Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce), who engaged her as a matchmaker unaware of her plans to marry him herself. Vandergelder’s two clerks, Cornelius Hackl (Christian Dante White standing in for Gavin Creel) and Barnaby Tucker (Charlie Stemp) leave Yonkers for an “adventure” in the city, run into their boss and Dolly, and hilarity ensues.

Murphy’s combination of incredible footwork, vocal chops, and her ability to go from graceful to goofy on stage brings the character of Dolly Levi to life, a decidedly different experience from Bette Midler, where it was clearly Bette Midler on stage in a guest appearance as Dolly Levi.

Perhaps due to the passing of her husband, Shawn Elliot, a year before she assumed the role, Murphy also brings a greater poignancy to Dolly as a widow who is reclaiming her life after being in a “personal haze.”

The audience, which stopped the show no less than three times with thunderous ovations, was there primarily for Donna and she gave it her all, as did David Hyde-Pierce as the curmudgeonly Horace Vandergelder, whose priceless comedic timing is unparalleled in the role. Kate Baldwin excelled as milliner Irene Malloy as did Charlie Stemp as Barnaby Tucker, but the same couldn’t be said for Gavin Creel’s understudy as Cornelius. Creel was sorely missed on stage Monday night.

To borrow from my original review of the revival, from the songs to the colors to the real train to Yonkers, this is a big, bright, and brassy musical, best captured by the sentiment uttered by Horace Vandergelder in submission when he proposes to Murphy’s Dolly: “Wonderful woman!” he says. The audience agreed most enthusiastically.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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