After taking in Hello, Dolly! live for the first time and being unable to get the songs out of my head days later, I caught the hype on this musical-theater classic. The Kimmel Center campus hosts the Broadway show’s national tour at the Academy of Music, paying tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion.
Based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play The Merchant of Yonkers, Hello, Dolly! originally premiered in 1964, with a book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Led by four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Warren Carlyle, this production continues to dazzle while remaining faithful to Champion’s original.
The musical follows the widowed Dolly Levi, a bold and hilarious matchmaker, as she “helps” the widowed Horace Vandergelder (John Bolton), an irritable and wealthy shop owner, find a new wife—while secretly plotting to marry him herself.
The starring role has featured some of Broadway’s biggest names, from Carol Channing to Barbra Streisand. With Carolee Carmello taking up Dolly’s mantle, this restaged classic continues its legacy of stardom. Carmello’s vocals, dancing, and comedic timing are impeccable. No note is too difficult for her to hit or sustain.
At the center of Hello, Dolly! are three love stories spanning age and socioeconomic status. Two of Vandergelder’s employees, played by Daniel Beeman and Sean Burns, leave the shop abandoned, determined to find adventure and kiss a girl. Beeman and Burns have great comedic chemistry, with every joke rewarded by uproarious laughter.
A kaleidoscopic stage
The entire creative team of the Broadway production returns for this new national tour, including a glittering, elegant aesthetic from set and costume designer Santo Loquasto, a four-time Tony Award winner.
The production as a whole overflows with truly remarkable choreography, sharp directing, attention to detail, enchanting singing, and abundant sarcastic, witty dialogue. Characters often the fourth wall, nodding to the audience and pausing for emphasis.
This production took big swings and it paid off. The sweeping dance numbers are mesmerizing, complete with complex choreography and dancers skillfully weaving between each other like synchronized swimmers. From my seat it felt as if I was viewing the big dance numbers through a kaleidoscope, never wanting to blink and miss a colorful moment.
Space in her own story
Hello, Dolly! demonstrates the magic of witnessing true grandeur onstage. Although some songs and jokes didn’t age well, particularly ones commenting on archaic roles for women, the musical is an entertaining snapshot of a different time. My companion (a devoted fan of the musical) approved, noting that we don’t come to this show for an amazing story. We come to see Dolly and the incredible production values. We see a woman who is loud, confident, and takes up space in her own story.
What, When, Where
Hello, Dolly! By Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Through March 1, 2020, at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or kimmelcenter.org.
The Academy of Music is a wheelchair-accessible venue. For more information about the accessibility of Kimmel campus venues, call Patron Services at (215) 893-1999 / (215) 875-7633 TTY or email [email protected]. There is an American Sign Language and audio-described performance of Hello, Dolly! on Friday, February 28, 2020 at 8pm.