Donna Murphy Lights Up the Stage in an Outstanding Broadway Revival of “Hello Dolly”

The ensemble of Hello Dolly in the show stopping number: “Put on your Sunday Clothes."

Josh Rittberg

Staff Writer

The new Broadway revival of the classic Jerry Herman musical, Hello Dolly, opened back on Broadway this season with the divine Bette Midler as the iconic matchmaker, Dolly Gallagher Levi. On Tuesday nights, and on certain dates when Midler is on vacation, the role of Dolly is being played by the Broadway legend Donna Murphy. For those fans who might be apprehensive on seeing the show without Midler, they should have no fear. Donna Murphy is giving the performance of a lifetime in a truly extraordinary production.

Hello Dolly tells the classic story of a matchmaker named Dolly Levi. The character of Dolly makes matches for a living and intends to set herself up with the wealthy Horace Vandergelder (David Hyde Pierce).  Vandergelder has other plans though. As he explains in the number, “It Takes a Woman,” he wants to marry so he can find a woman who can do the household chores for him. Watching Dolly’s efforts to woo Horace is one of the many joys of this production.

Also involved in the story is Horace’s bumbling store clerks, Barnaby Tucker (Taylor Trensch) and Cornelius Hackl (Gavin Creel), who decide to take a journey to New York City for the day to see the world beyond their small town of Yonkers. Once in New York, they immediately become smitten with two young women named Irene Malloy (Kate Baldwin) and Minnie Fay (Beanie Feldstein). The other couple in Hello Dolly is the young man, Ambrose Kempler (Will Burton), who intends to marry Horace’s niece, Ermengarde (Melanie Moore).  After the disgruntled Horace disapproves of their marriage, Ambrose enlists the help of Dolly. The multiple story lines may make the plot sound complicated, but the numerous story lines are really just excuses for the great comedy and rousing music in Michael Stewart’s book and Jerry Herman’s score.

Donna Murphy is an utter delight in the iconic role of Dolly Levi.  From her surprise entrance in the opening number, “Call On Dolly,” Murphy has the audience in the palm of her hands. She not only expertly conveys Dolly’s joy for life, but also her apprehension to return to society after the death of her husband, Ephraim. Murphy is in fine voice throughout the entire evening, and displays excellent chemistry and comic timing with her costars.  Murphy’s joy in playing this iconic role is truly infectious and carries throughout the whole production.

David Hyde Pierce, who audiences may know as the neurotic Niles Crane in the hit TV show Frasier, completely disappears into the role of the uptight Horace Vandergelder. The role of Horace is usually a very one- note character, but David Hyde Pierce brings much of his trademark comic energy to this part. His facial expressions in his scenes with Murphy’s Dolly are absolutely priceless. This new production of Hello Dolly brings back a number from the original pre-broadway tryouts called “Penny in My Pocket.” In this exuberant Act Two opener, Horace hilariously recounts to the audience how he became a half millionaire. This number performed with excellent wit by Hyde Pierce, not only gives the character of Horace some humanity, but also serves as an excellent showcase for this actor’s many talents.  Although the character of Horace Vandergelder is the second lead to Dolly, David Hyde Pierce’s humorous performance makes Horace, even at his grumpiest, an utter delight.

Gavin Creel and Taylor Trensch make a wonderful comedic duo as the store clerks Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker.  In his Tony winning turn as Cornelius Hackl, Creel proves himself to be a true triple threat with expert comic timing.  Creel especially shines in his second act ode to falling in love, “It Only Takes a Moment.” Trensch, although newer to the Broadway scene, displays the naivety of the younger Barnaby Tucker with comedic flair.

Kate Baldwin is absolutely stunning as the sensitive hat shop owner, Irene Malloy.  Malloy, like the character of Dolly Levi, is a widow, and is reluctant to marry again. That is, until she falls in love with Creel’s Cornelius Hackl. Baldwin brings a refreshing spunk to the character of Irene Malloy, and displays gorgeous vocals in the number “Ribbons Down My Back.”  Beanie Feldstein is a riot as Irene’s scene stealing assistant, Minnie Fay. Although not a leading role by any means, Feldstein’s hysterical facial expressions and physical comedy makes the character of Minnie Fay a true crowd favorite.  Feldstein and Baldwin both display excellent chemistry with Creel and Trensch in the toe tapping number “Elegance.”  Baldwin and Feldstein are truly a joy to watch.  

Other standouts in the supporting cast include Jennifer Simard as Ernestina, who has eyes for the wealthy Horace Vandergelder.  Simard’s hysterical New York accent for her character and side-splitting timing in Ernestina’s awkward attempts at seducing Horace nearly stop the show.  Kevin Ligon also is humorous as head waiter, Rudolph, in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant.  Harmonia Gardens is where all the couples hilariously come together and where Dolly makes her grand entrance back into society.

The whole cast is outstanding, but special mention must be given to the incredible enthusiasm of the ensemble of Hello Dolly.  They play various roles ranging from New York City city-goers to waiters in the iconic Harmonia Garden scenes. Not only are they incredibly strong as a unit, but the male ensemble accompanies Murphy’s Dolly during the rousing title number, “Hello Dolly,” giving it a show stopping effect.

Jerry Zaks, one of Broadway’s most highly regarded directors, brings great showmanship to this production of Hello Dolly.  His direction never tries to radically reimagine this classic piece of musical theatre, but instead, Zaks lets the outstanding material speak for itself.

Warren Carlyle’s thrilling choreography is done in the style of Dolly’s original choreographer, Gower Champion. Even in paying homage to Dolly’s choreography, Carlyle is able to bring great flair to these classic numbers.  Carlyle’s contribution to the number “The Waiters Gallop” is absolutely thrilling as the ensemble of waiters jump and twirl frantically through Santo Laquasto’s elegant Harmonia Gardens setting.

Santo Laquasto’s colorful sets and Tony Award Winning costumes in the rousing number “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” elicit gasps as the cast jubilantly sings about the adventures ahead of them in New York City.  Laquasto’s various painted backdrops and elegant set pieces are jaw dropping in their sheer detail.  His costumes and sets manage to be period specific while also bringing great color and flair to the production.

Natasha Katz’s bright lighting design never overwhelms the rest of the creative team’s contributions. Instead, Katz’s lights reinforce the color and optimism brought forth through the rest of the production.  The same can be said for the outstanding makeup and wigs by Campbell Young Associates.  The creative team of this production is firing on all cylinders and all equally contribute to the success of this production.

Jerry Herman’s iconic score which includes the joyful numbers “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” Dolly’s tour de force Act One finale, “Before the Parade Passes By,” and the show stopping title song is enthusiastically brought back to life with the help of Larry Hochman’s bright orchestrations. Herman’s score for Hello Dolly is infectiously upbeat and is sure to have audience members humming the classic tunes long after the curtain drops.

Michael Stewart’s witty book manages to keep the action moving while also creating incredibly strong arcs for the characters.  Dolly’s journey back into society is at the heart of this musical and is greatly explored by Murphy in Dolly’s heartbreaking monologues to her deceased husband, Ephraim. Stewart’s monologues for Dolly add moments of great tenderness to the bright world that surrounds the characters.

With strong work from the whole cast and an unforgettable performance by Donna Murphy, this is a show that audiences will not want to miss. This production is giving audiences a joyful escape from the chaotic world and reminding them why they fell in love with theatre in the first place.  After an over twenty year absence from Broadway, it is nice to have Hello Dolly back where it belongs.