It’s rare, these days, for a new musical to be based around the old Broadway standards of showmanship — a fast-paced, fun combination of singing, dancing, broad jokes and unapologetic sentimentality. That, more often than not, is what revivals are for, and as the national tour of "Hello, Dolly!" shows, the old classics can still prove astoundingly entertaining.
This tour of "Hello, Dolly!" (playing at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall through Jan. 26, courtesy of Broadway in Austin and Texas Performing Arts) is based on the hugely popular recent Broadway revival starring Bette Midler. Fortunately, the production is strong enough to succeed even without Midler in the titular role.
That’s not to say that the tour’s leading lady isn’t spectacular. As meddling matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, Carolee Carmello hams up every moment with a sense of charm and elan that is infectious and fills up the stage even when she is alone.
Similarly, John Bolton as Horace Vandergelder (the wealthy Yonkers storeowner whom Dolly intends to marry) has an immense presence that is as charming as it is curmudgeonly, with hilarious results. Huge broad comedy, practically vaudevillian in its snappy timing, also comes from the pair of Daniel Beeman and Sean Burns as Horace’s truant young clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker.
In classic Broadway musical comedy style, the stories of these four characters (among others) interact during one erratic day in New York City, with plenty of hijinks. Along the way, we’re treated to a variety of comedic scenes and several show-stopping musical numbers. It is in these latter moments that we see the true secret weapon of this production — a dynamite ensemble of singers and dancers who bring the house down with classic songs such as "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," "Before the Parade Passes By" and, of course, "Hello, Dolly!"
Director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle excel at staging these big numbers, using the music and dance to create charming character moments as well as to dazzle with the skill of the ensemble members. The pacing and stage picture are often frenetic, but never confusing, a testament to Zaks and Carlyle’s skills.
This is classic, old-fashioned Broadway stagecraft, and it is as engaging and entertaining as it has ever been, proving that a bit of glitz and glamour still shines even in our cynical era.