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Review: 'Hello, Dolly!' New Broadway Cast Recording

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

<em>Hello, Dolly!</em> New Broadway Cast Recording.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Hello, Dolly! New Broadway Cast Recording.

The only surprising thing about Bette Midler coming to Broadway in a revival of Hello, Dolly! is that she hadn't already come to Broadway in a revival of Hello, Dolly! There have been many incarnations of Dolly Levi (including Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Ginger Rogers, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, and, in the film, Barbra Streisand), but perhaps none more blindingly obvious than Midler. After all, she belts, she made her bones as precisely the kind of unapologetic ham that Dolly is written to be, and she seems like someone the staff of a restaurant might line up to welcome, just as they do in the show's famous title song. And when it comes, that title song might even be better to just listen to, without a visual to limit the personnel to what can be held in a theater. In your mind, the line of singing waiters can stretch into eternity.

Dolly Levi is a matchmaker and lady-about-town in New York City near the turn of the 20th century, and the cast album of the new revival – directed by Jerry Zaks and just nominated for 10 Tony Awards – embraces every pleasantly old-fashioned note of her adventures. Her co-star is David Hyde Pierce, who plays her potential love interest, Horace Vandergelder. Midler wraps her scrumptious, suede voice around "Before The Parade Passes By" and all the rest of Dolly's strutting romps, and the other performers, including Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin (who, like Midler and Pierce, are among the recipients of the show's 10 Tony nominations), rise to the occasion to play lovers who are destined to be a bit trampled by the sheer force of Dolly's presence.

A good revival will also often give you a little something that even someone familiar with the original might not have heard, and that's the case here, too: you'll hear Pierce sing "Penny In My Pocket," a solo that was cut from the original Broadway production and is restored here. Those accustomed to hearing Pierce as Niles Crane on television might be surprised to hear him pronounce "bursting" as "boisting," but such is actor versatility, and such is the New York musical.

Larry Hochman's orchestrations are traditional but also playful; the banjo keeps intact the string-band jazz feel that locates the action quite specifically as to time and place. As welcome as fresh voices are on Broadway, and as necessary as evolution is, there's something to be said for a cast album that sounds like it could have been recorded at any time in the last 50 years, especially when this particular "indelible dame" show collides at last with one of our great indelible dames.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.