It’ll be so nice to have Bette back where she belongs! Legendary composer Jerry Herman and prodigious theater and film producer Scott Rudin have announced Bette Midler will return to Broadway in one of our most cherished musicals when she takes on the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! The revival—the fifth since the original’s January 1964 opening—will be directed by four-time Tony and five-time Drama Desk winner Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony and DD winner Warren Carlyle.

Save for her SRO revues and portrayal of Hollywood agent Sue Mengers in 2013’s I’ll Eat You Last, this will mark Midler’s first Broadway venture since joining the company of the original Fiddler on the Roof in 1967, about three years into its run, where she played Tzeitel, Rivka, and Fruma.

Hello, Dolly! rehearsals begin in a year. Performances at a yet-to-be announced theatre start March 13 (2017), with opening night set for April 20. The date coincides with the deadlines for the 2016-2017 season deadlines for Tony and Drama Desk nominations.

“Many times I've been asked about bringing back Hello, Dolly!” says Herman, a four-time Tony winner (with one for Dolly)—including a 2009 Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement—and Drama Desk winner—including a 2010 Lifetime Achievement honor. “But, it’s always been, ‘Who would be my dream Dolly?’ I've had dozens of names tossed at me. I always knew we would need more than just a wonderful singer or a wonderful actor.

“I held on to the hope that she would also be a distinctly original persona,” he continues. “One who has the stature, warmth, incredible talent and ability, and especially the singular, outsized personality for in a 21st Century Dolly? Only one person: Bette Midler could bring Dolly brilliantly back to the lights of 14th Street!”

Midler says,“I’m looking forward to portraying one of the most beloved characters in all of American musical comedy, Dolly Levi, born Gallagher. I'm going to have the time of my life, and I’m so glad to be under the wings of Scott Rudin as producer and Jerry Zaks as director. See you next year!”

With a career spanning five decades, Midler, not only had huge cultural relevance but also defied categorization. Following her Broadway debut in Fiddler, she starred in films, on TV, in concerts, became a Platinum-selling and four-time Grammy-winning recording artist, and produced (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert).

Midler was twice Oscar-nominated (“The Rose,” “For the Boys”) and is a four-time Golden Globe winner (one for her acclaimed Mama Rose in the TV adaptation of Gypsy). She received a special Tony for her 1973 concert, aptly titled “Bette Midler.” After a nearly 40-year absence, she returned to Broadway in the one-woman play I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers (breaking Booth Theater house records).

In addition, she’s been a stellar New York citizen, lending her name to restoration projects and, through her non-profit New York Restoration Project, helped bring life back to abandoned and neglected parks and gardens and created open spaces in all five boroughs.

Hello, Dolly! will mark the welcome return to Broadway of director (and former actor) Zaks, absent since 2011’s Sister Act. He made his directorial debut in 1986 with Lincoln Center Theater’s The House of Blue Leaves, struck gold again with the 1987 revival of Anything Goes, 1989’s Lend Me a Tenor, LCT’s 1990 Six Degrees of Separation, 1993’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, and 1995’s Smokey Joe’s Café.

Zaks recollects buying standing room at the St. James for the original Dolly! “It was only show anyone was talking about. I fell in love with everything about it: the music, the dancing, the comedy, the style—the sheer power of it. I went back four times. I regarded Gower Champion as the quintessential master of the seamless blending of music, movement, and dialogue. He was as good a storyteller as there’s ever been on the Broadway stage. To be able to bring Jerry, Gower, and Michael’s work to life again, with the great genius that is Bette Midler, is as good as it gets.”

Carlyle (After Midnight, A Christmas Story, Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, Chaplin, and revivals of Finian’s Rainbow, On the Twentieth Century, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Follies), who’s choreographing this season’s revival of She Loves Me, says, “I’m so inspired by the Golden Age of American musical theater. It can’t get any better than Hello, Dolly! Needless to say, I’m honored and humbled and beyond thrilled and excited. Though this will be a new production, we’ll pay homage to Gower Champion’s groundbreaking vision.

“To have the opportunity to work with Bette Midler,” he adds, “as she takes her rightful place alongside the jaw-dropping list of women who’ve played this iconic role, and side by side, Jerry Zaks is going to be nothing short of awe-inspiring.”

The original Hello, Dolly!, based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, adapted by Stewart (Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival! George M!, Mack and Mabel, 42nd Street, and Barnum) and produced by David Merrick, of course, starred the indefatigable Carol Channing. Co-starring were David Burns, Eileen Brennan, Charles Nelson Reilly, Alice Playten, and Jerry Dodge.

It played 2,844 performances over seven years, breaking the record for Broadway’s longest-running show. It won a then record-shattering 10 Tonys, including Best Musical, Book, Score, Performance by a Leading Actress, Choreography, and Direction.

Those who inherited the role were Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Betty Grable, Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers, and Ethel Merman (her last Broadway appearance). Hello, Dolly!, starring Mary Martin, was also a huge hit on the West End.


Ellis Nassour
February 2016