Saturday, April 22, 2017

DOLLY Dissed on WNYC?

Bette Midler got rave reviews from coast to coast.  THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE WASHINGTON POST are just three of the outlets that had high praise for Bette Midler's performance in the Broadway revival of HELLO, DOLLY!  In THE NEW YORK TIMES review, we read "Bette Midler provides a dazzling lesson in star power."  THE WASHINGTON POST:  "HELLO, DOLLY! and Bette Midler are a perfect match."  THE LOS ANGELES TIMES:  "Bette Midler and HELLO, DOLLY!...Broadway heaven."
Then I heard the short WNYC review this morning during a local news break from the national NPR broadcast of Saturday's WEEKEND EDITION.  The theater review segments are about 2-minutes long and done by one critic.  Today, the critic called Midler's performance "subdued' and said that she's at her best when does shows in which we see her shimmy and shake onstage.  I am a longtime Midler fan.  I saw her in concert before she made THE ROSE (1979) and in concert since then.  I saw Carol Channing in HELLO, DOLLY! twice during her successful revival in the 1970s.  In fact, I interviewed her.  I was new in my first full-time professional broadcast after graduation.  The tour played a few days in Milwaukee.  Press was given seats for the opening night performance.  There was a press conference that we were invited to attend.  Channing granted me an exclusive backstage interview on another day, our interview aired and made a strong impression on my radio boss.
In some TV, film and stage performances, Carol Channing made have played the ditzy blonde.  In real life, I found her to be as ditzy as General Patton.  She not only promoted her show, she promoted others shows and urged people to embrace the arts. Without criticizing big-budgeted movie version expanded, altered and tailored to suit the talents of Barbra Streisand, Channing detailed the heart of HELLO, DOLLY! to me and why it worked.  One of its qualities was that it kept the emotional intimacy and humanity of its source material.  It's a musical based on Thorton Wilder's hit play, THE MATCHMAKER.  Yes, the same Thornton Wilder who gave us OUR TOWN.  When I saw Channing in the show a second time, it was a great "Aha!" moment.  I realized every bit of what she'd told me coupled with an understanding of why audiences must've had loved it so much.  The show was a hit.  The title tune was on pop charts recorded by several singing stars.  Jazz great Louis Armstrong had a big pop hit with "Hello, Dolly!" which is why he was worked into the 1969 film version.
HELLO, DOLLY! is a Broadway musical comedy classic.  The score by Jerry Herman is great.  The songs have gone on to become standards.  The story tells us to embrace life, help others, and not to cut off from life after deep heartbreak.  Dolly is widow who was in a wonderful marriage.  She may not show it but she's lonely.  She's middle-aged.  She longs to find a new life and a new love...."Before the Parade Passes By."  HELLO, DOLLY! presents optimism, generosity of spirit and good will for people in our lives.  It's not a show that promotes building walls to keep people out.

The WNYC reviewer did not give me the impression that she'd ever seen THE MATCHMAKER onstage or rented the 1950s Paramount Pictures version starring Shirley Booth, Shirley MacLaine, Anthony Perkins and Robert Morse.  Nor did I get the impression she'd ever seen a previous stage production of HELLO, DOLLY!

In 1964, no wonder audiences cheered at "Before the Parade Passes By" and "Hello, Dolly!," two of the most life-affirming, uplifting Broadway show tunes ever written in the 1960s. This was on Broadway the year after America was paralyzed with intense, sudden grief after the 1963 assassination of President of John F. Kennedy.  Our national emotional wounds were still fresh a year after he was killed.  President Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, were champions of the fine arts.  They invited cultural events and artists into the White House.  They attended Broadway shows.   A joyful musical comedy like HELLO, DOLLY! starring Carol Channing helped America heal in 1964 after those dark days in November 1963.  The country needed Dolly.

That's why Bette Midler didn't shimmy and shake.  She's an actress playing a character, a character in the early 1900s.  She's not in concert as The Divine Miss M.  She's a veteran entertainer over the retirement age who, according to other reviews, is giving a powerhouse star quality performance in one of the most treasured Broadway musical roles for women over 40/50.  HELLO, DOLLY! is not Midler in one of her glitzy Vegas productions.
I pray I can see Bette Midler in this revival.  I think we can all expect to see her get a Tony Award for it.  Tell that to WNYC's theater critic.

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