Classy Broadway staple and TV star Betty Buckley fills the shoes of Dolly Gallagher Levi with joy in the national tour of “Hello, Dolly!” onstage the Golden Gate Theatre.
Some 55 years after the beloved late Carol Channing created her career-long role on Broadway, and following Bette Midler’s Tony-winning portrayal in the 2017 revival, Buckley plays the famed matchmaker (based on the 19th century-set play by Thornton Wilder) with a twinkle in her eye, steady vocals and knowing insight.
With an appealing quiet flair for physical comedy, she milks the laughs, too, licking her chops, munching on a turkey bone in a courtroom after the mayhem in Harmonia Gardens restaurant, among musical theater’s most classic scenes.
Directed by Jerry Zaks, this spot-on production exemplifies the meaning of classic, bringing to vivid life Jerry Herman’s unforgettable score (from the title tune to the imminently hummable “Before the Parade Passes By”) and Michael Stewart’s book, which brilliantly balances vaudeville schtick, sentiment and wisdom.
And while the focus of this warhorse (though a major production hasn’t been in the Bay Area in recent years) is on Dolly, the enduring show boasts a full cast of equally appealing characters, played to perfection here.
Lewis J. Stadlen gives Dolly’s target, store owner Horace Vandergelder, the proper curmudgeonly appeal, while Nic Roleau and Jess LeProtto display impeccable comic timing as his beleaguered employees, who dance and sing up a storm with the ladies they meet, the equally dynamic and funny Analisa Leaming and Kristen Hahn.
Gorgeous period costumes (pastels in the “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” number are to die for) and sets (backdrops with painterly illustrations of 1885 New York) by Santo Loquasto round out the lush show, which, with a funny horse, streetcar and locomotive, doesn’t skimp on production values.
Initially, choreographer Warren Carlyle holds back, letting the wardrobe outshine the simple movement in “Sunday Clothes,” the show’s first big number.
But things certainly change as the nimble, athletic ensemble meets its challenge during the exuberant, climactic restaurant scene, with shish kebab swordplay and precarious piles of plates.
By that time, the audience is in full agreement with her admirers in the show, crooning with passion, “Dolly’ll never go away, again.”
Presented by SHN
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes March 17
Tickets: $56 to $226
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com