If you’ve never experienced the very specific magic that happens when a Broadway diva in a red dress walks slowly down a staircase during Hello, Dolly’s title number, the production that’s closing out Pittsburgh CLO’s summer season is a great place to start. And if you have seen the show before, you already know the good news: Dolly is all about how falling in love can be just as good the second time around.
Betty Buckley headlines the national tour of the musical’s 2018 Tony Award-winning revival, playing in Pittsburgh through Sunday. The woman can work a staircase. And an audience — from the moment she enters in the first scene to a round of applause, Buckley’s Dolly Levi has everyone in the theater, onstage and off it, wrapped around her finger.
Dolly is a widowed matchmaker who’s spent the years since her husband’s death fixing other people’s problems. Now it’s time to fix her own. She’s ready to remarry and she’s already picked out the man: the well-known half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (Lewis J. Stadlen), who runs an animal feed business in Yonkers, N.Y. Horace is reluctant, but Dolly schemes seven or eight steps ahead, weaving a web that draws in Horace’s two poorly treated clerks (Nic Rouleau and Sean Burns), his niece (Morgan Kirner), the niece’s artist lover (Colin LeMoine), a New York City hatmaker (Analisa Leaming), and her assistant (Kristen Hahn).
All the players end up divided neatly into pairs after a night of fine dining and minor criminal activity. Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart adapted Dolly from a Thornton Wilder farce called The Merchant of Yonkers, and the musical is still often a farce (and a very good one). Rouleau and Tucker deliver great moments of physical comedy, ducking under tables and into wardrobes whenever the need presents itself, and often moving in almost-perfect synchronization.
The choreography, in the hands of Rouleau, Tucker, and a large, talented ensemble, is fascinating to watch. The plot even involves a dance competition, but sadly, the trophy doesn’t end up in the hands of the dancers that most deserve it — the restaurant’s ensemble of male waiters, who spend a good amount of the second act galloping around the stage in an elaborate plate-passing routine. It goes on for a long time; I would gladly watch three hours of it. As Dolly says to the waiters: “Wow, wow, wow, fellas.” And as they say to Dolly: “Promise you’ll never go away again.”