“Hello, Dolly!” with Donna Murphy
Sam S. Shubert Theatre
Bette Midler may be a tough act to follow, but Donna Murphy is currently giving an entirely sparkling performance as her standby on Tuesday evenings and during Bette’s vacation. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have snagged a ticket to see Midler, so I cannot compare the two actresses, but, as a long-time fan of Donna Murphy, Murphy is giving one of her best musical comedy performances. In addition, the production surrounding her is absolutely gorgeous, with especially fine work by David Hyde Pierce, Gavin Creel, and Kate Baldwin. So, if you are unable to afford a ticket to see Bette (who has turned “Hello, Dolly!” into quite an “event” show, on par with “Hamilton”), you should be entirely satisfied by the portrayal of Donna Murphy as Dolly Levi.
The original production of “Hello, Dolly!” opened in 1964 and there was a long succession of actresses who took on the role after Carol Channing, both on Broadway and in London, such as Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman, and Mary Martin. I was lucky enough to see Channing when she brought “Dolly!” back to Broadway in 1995. That experience is one of my all-time favorites: to see Channing in that iconic role, with the original staging and an approximation of the original set and costume design, was almost like going back in a time machine.
Putting aside my memories of Carol Channing, “Dolly!” is certainly a show that can take on a wide range of interpretations in the title role. As mentioned, I have not seen what Bette Midler has done with the part, but Donna Murphy, as her standby, can almost qualify as luxury casting. Murphy is the winner of two Tony Awards (for her unforgettable performances in “Passion” and the 1996 revival of “The King and I.”) She has been nominated many other times for the Tony Award, and she was also a memorable Phyllis in “Follies” and in the Angela Lansbury role in “Anyone Can Whistle,” both at Encores! Indeed, in a different producing situation, Murphy would have been one of the first names considered to take on a Broadway production of “Hello, Dolly!”
From the moment she makes her first appearance, Donna Murphy wrings all the laughs out of the script and her musical theater style and flair is apparent from start to finish. What’s more she looks great and sings the score sensationally. At the performance I attended, the audience went crazy for her and her renditions of both “Before the Parade Passes By” and, especially, the title number came close to stopping the show cold. There is a twinkle in Murphy’s eye throughout the show and she also has a great rapport with her fellow cast members.
David Hyde Pierce is pretty dandy as Horace, whom Dolly is trying to get married off, and he is very enjoyable in the musical numbers and he even gets the chance to deliver a cut number, “Penny in My Pocket,” at the start of the second act of the show. Also shining is Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy. I’ve seen Baldwin give wonderful leading lady performances and she brings her abundant gifts to this role and she is pretty close to heaven in everything she does onstage.
It’s also nice to see Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl, a part that has brought this amazingly talented actor a well-deserved Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Creel was a smarmy delight in last season’s “She Loves Me,” and has also done fine work in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and in a 2004 revival of “La Cage aux Folles.” In “Dolly!,” he really comes into his own, and he does a terrific job of singing “It Only Takes a Moment” with Kate Baldwin near the end of the show.
But the real story here is Donna Murphy’s performance playing Dolly Levi during the nights that Bette Midler has off. It is enormously gratifying to report that audience members should be entirely pleased with Murphy’s take on the title role and it is almost recommended that one make a point to see this excellent actress as Dolly. In 2003, Donna Murphy was hailed for her star performance in “Wonderful Town” and a lot of those same qualities are gloriously apparent in this current revival of “Hello, Dolly!” Brava!
“Hello, Dolly!” continues performances at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre on Broadway. For tickets, please visit www.hellodollyonbroadway.com or call 212-239-6210.
Photo: Donna Murphy
Photo by Jamie McCarthy