For my mom’s birthday, I took the family out to Hello, Dolly, with Bernadette Peters in the bigger-than-the-title role: her name was bigger than the title on the posters, and her persona was bigger than the character to the audience.
I wasn’t familiar with Hello Dolly, and was shocked by the extreme surrealism, bordering on magic. In the opening scene, Dolly hands out cards advertising her many services, eventually including one, to a painter who she deems in need of dance lessons, reading “painters taught how to dance”.
This production kept the comedy as light as a feather, and also embraced throwback style: the flatly painted set could have been from 1964, or indeed from 1935 when the play on which Dolly is based opened on Broadway. There were some hints of modernity thrown in, though. The cast was just a hair more diverse than those of generations past, and the 14th Street Association Parade had a sizable contingent of suffragettes, literally marching under the banner of Women’s Rights. For the year 1895, that’s actually plausible: in 1894, suffragists presented a petition with 600,000 signatures to the New York state constitutional convention asking for votes for women.
Also, Bernadette Peters managed five minutes of silent comedy gold by eating an entire tray of tiny sandwiches, live. I don’t know how she did it, or whose idea it was, but it worked. Dolly does seem like the sort of person who wouldn’t let perfectly good food go to waste.