The sexiest possible moment in a musical does not involve nudity, but it does date back to the days of Ziegfeld. It happens when a young or adult woman (think Ruby Keeler) dances with an abundant army of men, or vice versa (think Fred Astaire). As such, is it no surprise that the title song of “Hello, Dolly!” – where Dolly sings with a corps of waiters – has become one of the most beloved scenes in musical theater.
Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” which is based on Thorton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” is all about embracing life’s possibilities. Allow us to summarize the musical in song: “Before the Parade Passes By,” you must “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” go “Dancing,” get some “Elegance,” proudly put “Ribbons Down Your Back,” remember that “It Only Takes a Moment” to fall in love, and finally shout “Hello, Dolly!” in happiness.
But in spite of the musical’s popularity, its title role continues to be associated only with Carol Channing. (Barbra Streisand played the role in the film, regrettably). As such, musical theater fans had been guessing for months over who would play Dolly in the Papermill Playhouse’s revival. The choice of Tovah Feldshuh, who is best known to theater audiences as the Israeli Prime Minister of “Golda’s Balcony,” was a big surprise.
It is a relief to report that Feldshuh is fantastic as Dolly Gallagher Levi. Those familiar with the show should be aware that Feldshuh performs the role with an Irish accent, a choice that stresses the Gallagher side over the Levi (i.e. Jewish) one. To be successful, Dolly must be confident, warm and sarcastic. But above all, she is a clown. Feldshuh has made new choices that make authentic eccentricities. And to add icing to the cake, she is a wonderful singer!
As director, Mark S. Hoebee also brings out effective performances from Kate Baldwin as Irene Molloy, Jessica-Snow Wilson as Minnie Fay, Walter Charles as Horace Vandergelder, and Jonathan Rayson as Cornelius. Mia Michaels’ choreography is fine, though her staging of the title song resembles grinding rather than dancing.
The current revival of Jerry Herman’s “Mame,” which opened two weeks ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., is enjoyable but half-baked. This revival of “Dolly!” has no known plans to move anywhere, but it is one of Papermill’s best musicals in many years and a crowd-pleasing, smashing success.
Papermill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ. 973-376-4343. $19-68. Wed 7:30pm, Thurs 2 & 7:30pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm, Sun 2 & 7:30pm. Through July 23.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.