Last weekend my wife and I stayed in New York for 3 nights, and saw 3 Broadway show. They presented interesting contrasts, and spoke to the current state of Broadway theater. The shows were Hello Dolly, Waitress and The Play That Goes Wrong. We would like to have seen Hamilton (impossible) Come From Away or Evan Hansen, but tickets for those shows were available only at criminally high prices.
Hello Dolly, of course, stars Bette Midler. She is a huge star, and never lets you forget it for a minute. She sings great, barely dances, and dominates the stage with her personality. Unfortunately at times her performances crosses the line into schtick. During the first act closer, “Before the Parade Passes By”, the conductor tosses Bette a baton. She dropped it, stopped the show, had the orchestra start over and repeat the throw to get it right.
The costumes, sets, and supporting dancers are all top-notch. The problem with Hello Dolly is that the show itself is just not that good. I had seen a production at the Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ a few years ago, and I thought at that time that the show seemed dated. That opinion has not changed. One of the first songs is an ode to tricking a woman into marrying you to become a housekeeper.
Dolly’s big triumph is convincing the miserly Horace Vandergelder to marry her. She is only interested in him for his money. Not very romantic. David Hyde Pierce plays him with a suspect New York accent.
Somewhat lost in all the pageantry and scenery chewing was the heart of the show, which is Dolly trying to break free from her late husband and move on with her life.
Waitress is a very different type of show. It is set in the midwest in contemporary times, but also shares a theme of a woman trying to break free from a husband. In this case, however, the husband is very much alive, but is an abusive louse. Originally played by Jesse Mueller (Beautiful), the lead role has been taken over by Betsy Wolfe. Jason Mraz is making his Broadway debut, sans hat, as her obstetrician and lover (yes, that’s right). Although there is a sweetness at the core of the show, there were several cringeworthy aspects: There is a scene of simulated sex involving three couples that was just out of place in this show. I’m no prude, but it just didn’t work. Also the whole plot of an OB-GYN having an affair with a pregnant patient really bothered me. I’m a doctor and I can assure you that such an affair would violate all professional ethics and probably some laws as well. The cliche of the fat sassy black woman is also on display.
Sarah Bareilles’s songs are serviceable to advance the story but not memorable. It was a pleasure to see that old warhorse John Cullum on stage again, and Christoper Fitzgerald (Igor in Young Frankenstein) was terrific in a goofy supporting role. And there was pie. Lots of pie.
The Play That Goes Wrong, our last show, is a farce, pure and simple. I’m sure it’s whole cast is making less for the run of the show than Bette gets in a week. The story is that a college dramatic society accidentally booked on Broadway to perform a manor house murder mystery play. As the title states, goes wrong. Set designer Nigel Hook has done an amazing job making a set that falls apart in hilarious ways. The actors are inventively terrible. I’m sure if you read the script it would seem infantile, but everything works. I laughed through the entire performance. Unheralded, no big names, but just a lot of fun.
In sum, the name isn’t the thing – it’s the play.