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REVIEW: Betty Buckley Seizes the Spotlight, Never Lets Go in Hello, Dolly! (Orpheum Theatre/Hennepin Theatre Trust)

The national touring company of Hello, Dolly!, playing through April 28 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

The poster for the national tour of Hello, Dolly! features just four words: the show title and “Betty Buckley”. Look at the poster alone and you might think that’s odd. Watch the show and see the poster and that sounds just right. From the moment she first sets foot on stage, Betty Buckley grabs your attention in Hello, Dolly! and doesn’t let go until the curtain comes down.

The term “star power” gets tossed around loosely these days, but Betty Buckley fits just about any definition of the term. A Tony Award-winning actress, she has 18 albums under her belt, innumerable television credits, and played roles in both hit and cult films. Much of the opening night audience had clearly come in great anticipation of her performance. But more than anything, Buckley radiates the sort of old-school star power where you can’t help staring, rapt, at every engrossing movement that she makes and every line that she speaks.

Stage and screen legend Betty Buckley stars as matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly!

Consider this case: one of the funniest scenes in Hello, Dolly! revolves around Betty Buckley eating a turkey drumstick. “What?” you say – “How can the be funny?” And yet her performance had the audience in stitches for an extended scene that, in the hands of any number of other actors, would seem simply absurd. In her hands (and slurps), the actions are transformed into ridiculous comedy.

It’s not that the rest of the ensemble isn’t good – they’re very sharp, with on-point dancers and some excellent supporting leads – but the national tour of Hello, Dolly! is a star vehicle with a truly radiant star. Dolly (Betty Buckley) has it where it counts – everywhere.

Trains, brains, twains, and reigns: just a few of the elements in this witty production of Hello, Dolly!. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

“Exuberant” is a good term to describe how this production feels. Indeed, it practically radiates good vibes, from Analisa Leaming (as Irene Molloy)’s transcendent “Ribbons Down My Back” to the rousing ensemble piece “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” (kicked off with pizzaz by Nic Rouleau as Cornelius Hackl). Even one of the historically rougher edges, the song “It Takes A Woman”, comes across as more tongue-in-cheek grumping in the hands of Lewis J. Stadlen than as the sexist rant it often is.

Hello, Dolly! is ranked as one of the great canonical musicals, and as such has been played every way to Sunday. This one has a certain stylized flair to it – stylized in the same sense as some of the best classic Bugs Bunny cartoons, where characters bedazzle and confuse each other with wordplay, and where self-conscious embarrassment manifests in very physical ways, and to great humorous effect. Importantly, the flair of this world is consistent, and one of the things that Buckley does is sell you on the notion that it’s the best and funniest thing in the world. By the time Kristen Hahn (Minnie Fay) dashes offstage, exclaiming at the sight of men, the crowd just goes wild – and Dolly/Buckley’s got you hook, line, and sinker.

Leading lady Betty Buckley descends the stairs in a red dress for the show’s title song, “Hello, Dolly!”. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Hello, Dolly! plays at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN through April 28.

Basil Considine

Basil Considine is the Performing Arts Editor and Senior Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. He was previously the Resident Classical Music and Drama Critic at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and remains an occasional contributing writer for The Boston Musical Intelligencer and The Chattanoogan. He holds a PhD in Music and Drama from Boston University, an MTS in Sacred Music from the BU School of Theology, and a BA in Music and Theatre from the University of San Diego.

Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.

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