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February 13, 2019:

HELLO, DOLLY!

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, I have only two words to say at this time, oh, yes, I have only two words to say at this time.  So, without further delay or ado or even ado or delay, here are the two words: Hello, Dolly. I am back from seeing said Hello, Dolly and here are my thoughts as I think them.

I’ve seen a LOT of Hello, Dolly productions, starting with the first national tour with Carol Channing and David Burns, which opened the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center in 1965.  They actually sent a note to LACC, where I’d just started, asking if any of us wanted to usher and see the show for free.  I of course said yes and did so, from the balcony – one of the main reasons I never ever sit in the balcony was because of seeing that show up there.  It was too far away to really be able to get with it completely but I did marvel at the Gower Champion direction and choreography, and the two leads were great.  I went back again when Ginger Rogers took over and for that I sat in great seats in the orchestra and there it was like seeing it for the first time. I had a friend in the ensemble, a Bluth Brothers alum, so it was fun to see her.  I didn’t care for Ginger Rogers much, but I went again just to study the staging, and Rogers was out and her understudy, whose name I do not remember, was fantastic.  Subsequent to that, I saw an awful in-the-round production at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with Dorothy Lamour.  Then I had a hiatus until 1968 when I moved to New York in December of that year.  Our first night there we tried to get into Promises, Promises, but there was nothing, so we walked over to the St. James and five minutes before curtain we got great orchestra seats for Hello, Dolly, the new, all-black company starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway.  And it was simply brilliant, and Bailey was fantastic at that early point in her run.

Next time I saw it was also at the St. James, this time with Phyllis Diller, who I couldn’t imagine would be good, but who was actually one of the best, and Richard Deacon was a fun Horace.  And that was it until the 1970s Channing tour – I took the Darling Daughter to see that and she loved it.  But even then, the constant re-staging of Gower’s work was strictly by-the-numbers and bereft of the joy and energy it had during the original run.  Then in 1994 I got the call to see if I’d be interested in recording yet another tour with Channing and what would surely be her last in the role.  Because of my love for the show, I said yes.  I flew to Minneapolis, saw the show, which was fun but just didn’t have the sharpness it always had and Channing was so entrenched in her by now rote performance that was etched in concrete, but the audiences ate it up. As those who’ve read Album Produced By know, doing that album was a big pain in the ASS, but in the end it came out pretty well and I was nominated for a Grammy for it.

I had mixed feelings about seeing this new incarnation, but I shouldn’t have. What a joy to see a real musical comedy with real songs and a real book, filled with panache and none of the horrors of current shows, each of which looks exactly like a carbon copy of the others. No moving lights (there may be, but we’re not aware of them EVER), no projections, just old-fashioned beautiful, real scenery and backdrops, very well done by Santo Loquasto, whose costumes were also wonderful.

And then there was Betty Buckley.  And boy was there Betty Buckley.  From her first entrance she made Dolly her own – she’s funny, touching, she sings gloriously, and she’s immediately in the pantheon of great Dollys.  Lewis Stadlen is hands down the best Horace since David Burns.  I’m sure David Hyde Pierce was fine, but Stadlen just knows how to play this kind of comedy so perfectly – he’s just great.  Over the years, as Channing toured the Horaces got weaker and weaker, probably on purpose, if you get my meaning.  The Minnie and Irene are so interesting in their interpretations – don’t know if they’re following a template or not and don’t care because both were fresh and funny and endearing in ways I’ve not seen before.  I loved both of them and I hope they both move to LA after the tour so I can work with them.  Which brings us to the choreography.  There is enough Gower there to be respectful, but Warren Carlyle does enough new stuff in act one to keep it all fresh and it all works beautifully.  And now we come to my ONLY nitpick in the entire production – but unfortunately it involves the two act two showstoppers – The Waiters Galop and the title song.  Those are the two instances where the new choreography does not work as well as Gower’s iconic staging of each.  The Galop is busier than Champion’s but to no particular comic effect.  Gower’s was really funny when it was really sharp and its final build was brilliant.  Still, the Carlyle version got a huge response, but for me the Champion is perfection.  And the same goes for the title song – the new stuff is just not as good as Gower and while a few little fresh-ups would have been okay, it just isn’t as strong, at least not for me.  But it still stops the show, so there you are.  Jerry Zaks also made the show his own and did a fine job, especially with the pace – the show flies by.  And I must tell you, it was like taking a time machine back to a nicer time when audiences weren’t crazy, American Idol screamers and shriekers – the reaction was great but not over the top with insane woo-hooing – yes, there were big ovations for the big numbers, but they weren’t over-the-top nuts – if you watch the You Tube videos of Midler and Bernadette with those crazy FANatics screaming their guts out and making it all about them – well, our audience was a PLEASURE. I pretty much loved every second of it and if it comes to your town it is highly recommended by the likes of me.

Yesterday was a bit of a day.  I had about seven hours of sleep, got up, answered e-mails and then went to my lunch meeting.  I didn’t eat, but it was a fun meeting.  After, I picked up one small package and came home.  I began doing the show order – I didn’t get very far but it’s a good beginning. I listened to some music and did some other work on the computer, and then I got ready to mosey on over to Hollywood. I found one of the four parking spaces left on Argyle, the block just east of the Pantages.  They’ve removed all the meters from the east side of the street, and the west side only has these four meters up at Yucca.  And the only posted sign was tow-away parking from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon.  I got there around four-forty and all four spots were open.  I put money in the meter, although I suspect I didn’t have to since there were no posted signs anywhere, but better safe than sorry.

I walked down Vine to my little Japanese jernt, Kabuki, and ate a lot of good food – teriyaki chicken, tempura, soup, and some sesame chicken to start, all really good and really filling.  I hung out there for about an hour and fifteen minutes then walked over to Amoeba and looked at the classical CDs.  Amusingly, I ran into Marshall Harvey, so that was fun, and then we ran into Henry Stanny, so that was fun.  Amoeba’s classical used CDs are mostly $2.99, so I bought a few things I didn’t have, including some composers new to me.  Then I saw the show.

Afterwards, I came back to the Valley, made a quick stop at Ralph’s, then came home.

Today, I will finish the show order and begin writing the commentary, as it will take a bit of time since all this material is new to Kritzerland and I have to research each song and show.  I’ll eat, hopefully pick up some packages, and then at some point I’ll relax.

The rest of the week is doing stuff, hopefully getting the book design started (I have the feeling that is going to take my being really annoying – Grant has a week-long gig with Steve Tyrell – that’s been going on now for weeks but I think this is the end of it, at least I hope it is.  Not sure what the weekend will bring but we shall, I’m sure, find out.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, finish the show order, write commentary, eat, hopefully pick up packages and relax.  Today’s topic of discussion: It’s Ask BK Day, the day in which you get to ask me or any dear reader any old question you like and we get to give any old answer we like. So, let’s have loads of lovely questions and loads of lovely answers and loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, happy to have had a little bit of musical comedy heaven called Hello, Dolly!

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