Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Call on Dolly!
What this week has needed was some good news, and trust the Divine Miss M. to come through, and how. Word that she's headed to the Great White Way in the Great White Whale of Big Lady Roles has flashed across the cybersphere to a rare and near-unanimous chorus of praise and anticipation.
Include me in. We catch the lady here in a headdress quite suitable for Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, although with perhaps a tad more embonpoint on view than is strictly in line with the show's Victorian setting, but I think this snap does capture some of the joy she has the capacity to bring to the part.
And joy, this season, next season, or any time, is something we can all use a dose of, no? That's something that Hello, Dolly!, done right, delivers in spades.
Now that the first jubilation is fading, of course, there will be a wave of concern - can she carry it off? (Almost definitely, I would think. As Miss Davis once put it, "Has had Broadway," from Fiddler on the Roof six decades ago to Sue Mengers three seasons ago; on top of that, she's a touring trouper and a formidable stage presence.) Will the production do her justice? (Well, her director, producer, and choreography all have solid track records, and this is clearly going to be a Big Event, so there's reason to hope.) Most of all: can she hold her own with the towering original, yet still bring something of her own to it - without it turning it into either an extended Evening with Sophie Tucker or Hello, Bette!? (We shall see. She really can act, when she cares to, and the role calls for a range - from bawdy to tender, with big doses of pure energy - that is squarely in her fach.)
So on the whole, I think the auguries are in her favor, and as for me, I think she'll be swell.
The next set of questions also came to mind almost immediately, and discussing them took up a good deal of my day yesterday (have I mentioned that I'm not necessarily working in the most onerous of positions just about now?). First up: can she make it run? Now, nobody expects her to make Dolly her life's work à la Channing, but she'll need to make a real commitment and stay the course for, what - a year? Eighteen months? Then, too, one wonders: are they going to go for tradition - dancing waiters, annoying Ermengarde, runway, and some version of Champion's original euphoria-inducing staging of the title number, and all - or will this be some kind of dread "re-interpretation," reset in time, place, or general tenor? (One fervently hopes not.)
The original production, of course, became a legend of longevity, although its nearly seven-year initial incarnation is far less rare now. That long run (and nearly endless round of subsequent tours) called for a vast number of follow-on ladies, and in the years after Ginger Rogers first stepped into Carol Channing's formidable shoes, it seemed like any woman over the age of 35 with some claim to public affection got a shot, from the titanic - Mary Martin and Ethel Merman - to the surreal - Phyllis Diller? Danny LaRue?, taking in names from Betty Grable to Eve Arden and well beyond.
Presuming that Midler gives this iteration some momentum, it will thus be necessary to come up with a steady stream of second-stringers willing and ready to step into that headdress and head down the stairs of the Harmonia Gardens. The number of versatile, generally beloved, and game-for-the-part ladies isn't endless, but there are a number of more than viable contenders. Almost any of the still-with-us Momma Roses of recent decades could morph into Dollys, and it would be great fun - and fodder for years if not decades of dinner parties - to be able to compare and contrast the fan-stylings and meddle-joking of, say, Misses Daly, Buckley, Lupone, Peters, Uggams, and eventually, God help us, Lavin. Should this thing really turn into a war horse, the time will come for utility players and genuine stunt casting, meaning that I suppose we can look forward to hearing "Sunday Clothes" from everyone from (as one wag suggested yesterday) Caitlyn Jenner to, in the end, the likes of Brooke Shields and whatever reality-TV "star" is able to make herself available for six summer weeks or so.
The thing about Dolly is that it's a far more pliable role than the iconic (a rare appropriate use of that much abused descriptor) image of Channing as captured by Hirschfeld initially suggests. If Danny LaRue can do it - and apparently make quite a success - how about RuPaul? Or perhaps if Laverne Cox makes it out alive from the upcoming televisual Rocky Horror, she'll get a yen to trade one feather boa for another. And while Leslie Uggams seems to deserve a shot by general acclamation and lifetime achievement (not to mention her remarkably still-vibrant singing), how about, say Diana Ross (with, presumably, Mary Wilson getting the third bus-and-truck or so to follow)? Or, more plausibly, Queen Latifah?
In the end, Dolly! is a show about hope, and common sense, and keeping on. That it also comes with feathers and stairs and obligatory applause lines (starting, daringly, in the first scene, and continuing almost non-stop for two acts) and, of course, the role of a lifetime for an actress capable of taking it on is icing on what seems to me, at the moment, a much-needed cake. We shall see.
And whatever happens, oh, will we dish! Really, I haven't been this pleased since Miss Ciccone announced her intention to play Sra. Duarte de Perón...