It’s not the most profound show tune ever written. But at this moment in time, it may be the perfect show tune.
Put on your Sunday clothes, there’s lots of world out there.
Get out the brilliantine and dime cigars.
We’re gonna find adventure in the evening air!
Girls in white
In a perfumed night
Where the lights are bright as the stars!
With farcical happenings about to bloom in “Hello, Dolly!” — now being revived on Broadway, divinely, with Bette Midler — “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” is the exhilarating soil in which they germinate. Cornelius and Barnaby, the naive clerks in Horace Vandergelder’s Yonkers feed store, decide to play hooky and run off to the big city. And as they dress for the occasion and skedaddle off to the train station, joined (as only can occur in a Golden Age Broadway musical) by a parade of dancing Yonkersites in color-coordinated outfits, the city eventually bursts into chorus after chorus of a Jerry Herman song bathed in morning sunshine, and hope.
All the while, the faces in the Shubert Theatre audience stare back and, wait — what are those droplets on the cheeks of this jaded crowd at a critics’ performance? Are those tears?
Put on your Sunday clothes, we’re gonna ride through town
In one of those new horse-drawn open cars!
We’ll see the shows at Delmonico’s
And we’ll close the town in a whirl
And we won’t come home until we’ve kissed a girl!
There have been periods since “Hello, Dolly!’s” premiere back in 1964 when the show’s heart-on-its-sleeve emotionality made it seem seriously passe; it isn’t surprising that it hadn’t been revived on Broadway in 22 years, the last time with the musical’s original star, Carol Channing. But as indicated by the thunderous reception that “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” is accorded in the Shubert — occasioned, too, by Jerry Zaks’s direction, Warren Carlyle’s choreography and Santo Loquasto’s set and costumes — we’re going through a moment when the idea of dressing up and having a carefree day and night on the town feels like a release from a world gone absolutely, stark-raving mad.
Passionate adherents of the musical would argue that “Hello, Dolly!” never really goes out of fashion, that what it demands first and foremost is a star of Midler’s rank and dazzle. Still, from the outset, and the optimistic gaze of the song’s stirring intro — “Out there, there’s a world outside of Yonkers” — “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” picks up on a sentiment so vital right this very minute: that there remain reasons for us all to come out of our shells, that in simple positive thoughts and words and deeds there can be wonderful tidings.
Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out
Strut down the street and have your picture took
Dressed like a dream your spirits seem to turn about
That Sunday shine is a certain sign that you feel as fine as you look!
Herman built into each verse of “Sunday clothes” a momentum that’s close to irresistible. The melody rises ecstatically here on “turn about,” and the interior rhyme in the final line betokens a restless energy we can all desire to harness. By the time that train arrives onstage, to whisk Cornelius and Barnaby off to who-knows-what sorts of excitement in the Big Apple, the locomotive power of the song has swept you off, too, into a reverie of all the things that make you happy — such as, mightily well-made Broadway musicals.
Beneath your parasol the world is all a smile
That makes you feel brand new down to your toes
Get out your feathers, your patent leathers,
Your beads and buckles and bows
For there’s no blue Monday in your Sunday clothes!
Who wouldn’t want to be in Yonkers on a day like that?