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Donna Murphy As Dolly Levi… And Three Others

I’ve seen four Dolly Levis, the lead of “Hello Dolly” and none of them have been perfect.

Barbra Streisand, in the Gene Kelly directed Hollywood musical. She was excellent but a touch callow, a vocal triumph and my go take on the scores best songs. Barbra herself acts the role perfectly well, and the entire production explodes during the Louis “This is Louis” Armstrong – Barbra Streisand title track. Along with “Now You Have Jazz” with Bing Crosby, it is the Armstrong as popstar moment of his career. The joy in that scene makes Barbra’s Dolly the one to beat – A-

Carol Channing – In the mid-1990s Carol Channing revived her signature role on Broadway. She was a little too old at that exact moment, 73, but even so, undeniably she was up for the job. You Channing’s voice and she works it well on Dolly – B

Bette Midler – This year’s Dolly overwhelms the musical event with her Midlerisms, we expect and we want a star turn, absolutely, but what we don’t want is only a star turn. It overshadows everything around her, and weakens them. Having said so, she is huge in its biggest moments and the chicken eating scene is a classic – B+

Donna Murphy – Not only is Murphy ethnically accurate (Dolly’s middle name is Gallagher), her sensitivity adds a shadow to the really quite sad story of two widows, a widower, and a 32 year old virgin. Donna, one of Broadway’s musical actresses, gives an intelligent and smart performance, and helps everybody else in the show sign. But she isn’t brash enough for the role, who needs a subdued Dolly: her excitement are tempered by thought, and her plotting is distilled Machiavellism -which they always were but there was no reason to make it so explicit. Donna’s greatest strength is a joyful sorrow,  Anna Leonowens and Fosca were both troubled women, and Donna who by Broadway musical stars standards, is ordinary looking, uses her ordinariness to reach places other actresses don’t. The thing is: Dolly Levi isn’t helped by depth – B+

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