Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The smashing success of "Hello, Dolly!" is easily accountable: It makes you feel absolutely great. You leave the cheering National glad to be alive.
This is the secret ingredient of several factors: Thornton Wilder's affectionate philosophy, Jerry Herman's melodic effervescence and Carol Channing's irrepressible zest.
While such attitudes may seem out of style in a world obsessed with picking at its grubby navel, these are the emotions, expressed through all of Wilder's writings, which carry the world along from one day to the next.
Small wonder that ever since Channing first played her on the same stage, Broadway-bound, nearly 15 years ago, there have been thousands of reproductions.
But none has ever matched Channing's gorgeously outsized performance of Wilder's wildly outsized Dolly Gallagher Levi, the matchmatcher who sizes up the stingiest tightwad of 19th-century Yonkers, N. Y. Dolly reflects that "marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she's a householder" and in time she'll lead Horace Vandergelder into spreading his money around "like manure to make things grow."
The character symbolizes all of Wilder's writings through th short plays, "Our Town" and "The Skin of Our Teeth" to "The Alcestiade." It's about love of life. At the edge of greed, Dolly never goes over the line. She knows how to make people happy, whether teaching them to dance or elope. She is an outrageous woman, larger than life, and in the adaptation of Michael Stewart and Herman's score she becomes full-blown, joyous and contagious.
Instead of repeating her characterization by rote (Thursday was her 1.930th performane), Channing quite literally grows in the part, finding moments to hold on to for sheer, brilliantly timed comedy, then switching pace and tone so that no moment seems like any other. At the character's heart is her love for her dead husband, Ephraim, and here, again, Channing takes her time with rare technical control.
The Houston Grand Opera's production, staged as a salute to what the years have made a classic musical, is wholly first-rate, with Eddie Bracken a strong, snarling Vandergelder. Lee Roy Reams, that excellent singing dancer, gives his ballad, "It Only Takes a Moment," a vocal purity which sets a standard for all the singing, including Joy Franz's "Ribbons Down My Back," one of Herman's loveliest songs.
The title number remains unique, a signal for the first of the evening's several standing ovations. But Lucis Victor's staging of Gower Champion's original also values "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," "Dancing," "Elegance" and "The Waiters Gallop."
The chorus boasts highly attractive singers and dancers and when they get their moments, the supporting cast grabs them and soars.
But it's Channing's better-than-ever, gloriously comic Dolly you'll never forget. The run is through Nov. 11, but already it's later than you think.