Nothing more than coincidence brings the national tour of “Hello, Dolly!” to the Fox Theatre during a week that includes Valentine’s Day.
But the timing is kismet, as the beloved old-school musical (and film) centers on love. Whether losing it, finding it or manipulating it, the titular character of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a brassy New York widow who excels at matchmaking, requires some form of romance in her life.
With Dolly’s story – she’s intent to find a wife for cranky “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder - comes the elaborate sets and costumes that decorated the musical’s 2017 Broadway revival. The same version embarked on a national tour in 2018 and will wind its way to Atlanta Tuesday through Sunday. Feb. 11-16.
“This show is one for the classic Broadway enthusiast, the one that loves a big spectacle, huge dance numbers, clever comedy – anyone would enjoy it,” said Russ Belin, vice president of the southeast region for Broadway Across America, which is bringing the show to the Fox. “It is a throwback to old Broadway and it’s going to have that feel, but the story still resonates today and the comedy will be appreciated.”
Indeed, everything old is new again. The smash revival, which brilliantly cast Bette Midler as Dolly (and later, another wise choice in Bernadette Peters) sold out its limited run and, according to Forbes, grossed $128 million – more than any other revival in Broadway history aside from “Chicago.”
The original 1964 Broadway production earned a trove of Tonys – a then-record-breaking 10 out of 11 nominations – while the 2017 version added four more, including best revival of a musical and best actress in a leading role in a musical for Midler’s flawless portrayal.
Donning Dolly’s feathered hats and headdresses requires a combination of chutzpah and vulnerability – she is, after all, a widow who still lovingly talks aloud to her deceased husband. At the start of the revival’s tour, the reliably chameleonic Betty Buckley embodied Dolly’s sass; in September, Broadway veteran – and three-time Tony nominee - Carolee Carmello assumed the corsets and will carry on the Dolly name until the tour ends in March.
Her resume is dotted with roles in high-profile shows including “Parade,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Sister Act” and “Finding Neverland,” but Carmello also has familiarity with Atlanta productions. In 2015, she portrayed Mae Tuck in the Alliance Theatre’s world premiere of “Tuck Everlasting” and remained with the show when it transferred to Broadway.
“It was nice to be there so long to explore the city and have chicken and waffles,” Carmello said with a laugh last week from Naples, Florida, where “Hello, Dolly!” had just pulled in for a week of performances.
Carmello assured that the touring musical is, a few minor set changes aside, identical to the New York display. That the show requires eight trucks of production material – staging, costumes, lighting – is testament to the spectacle theatergoers can expect.
While Carmello’s career has provided opportunity to portray other spirited women – Donna Sheridan in “Mamma Mia!” and Aimee Semple McPherson in the short-lived “Scandalous” among them – playing Dolly Gallagher Levi demands something a little more layered.
“I think I didn’t realize when I started this job how deep it was going to be. I have this image in my head of (Dolly in the) red dress and coming down the stairs, that glamorous part. But what really surprised me was the humanity of her that comes out in those monologues, alone on stage talking to her deceased husband and baring her soul,” said Carmello. “It just makes her so much richer as a character. You see the face she’s putting on for the public and how hard she’s trying to be fun with her wit and being this fast-talking manipulator. But when you see the underbelly, it adds so much to what you take away.”
While Carmello agrees that the show’s music, written by the recently deceased Jerry Herman, is “immortal,” she also praises the book, written by Michael Stewart and based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Merchant of Yonkers,” later revised and renamed in 1955 to “The Matchmaker.”
“Wilder was such a wonderful writer, so you have those funny scenes between Dolly and Horace and (Horace’s clerks) Cornelius and Barnaby. It’s rare to have a musical with such a good score and a really brilliant book,” she said. “Even though the story takes place in 1895, it’s still very relevant. It’s about trying to find your person and attach yourself to someone and feeling lonely and surviving the death of a spouse. So many things people can relate to differently at different ages.”
Having performed her 100th show in January, Carmello is attuned to the generational span that fills the audiences. Even so, she’s been surprised at the turnout of college-aged fans waiting at the stage door after shows.
“Many of them had heard about the show but didn’t know anything about it. I just assumed everyone knew the show or movie, but there’s a lot who don’t,” Carmello said. “It’s fun to bring the show to new people because it’s so good and works on so many levels. It doesn’t feel creaky. It’s fun. I think at this time in this country, we’re desperate for something that is joyful.”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday ; 8 p.m. Friday ; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday ; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $35-$129. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.
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