It’s always fun when the bull goose theater critics in The Big Town provide the Broadway version of Bizarro World over some megabucks production. Case in point: The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reviews of Bette Midler as the title character in the Shubert Theater revival of Hello, Dolly!
Let’s compare and contrast in clear idiomatic English, shall we?
Enter, stage right, New York Times critic Ben Brantley, whose review sports the headline Bright, Brassy and All Bette.
Money quote #1, regarding a solitary, expensive meal in Act Two.
Ms. Midler brings such comic brio — both barn-side broad and needlepoint precise — to the task of playing with her food that I promise you it stops the show. Then again, pretty much everything Ms. Midler does stops the show.
Money quote #2, regarding Midler’s overall performance.
Ms. Midler works hard for her ovations, while making you feel that the pleasure is all hers. In the process she deftly shoves the clamorous memories of Carol Channing (who created the role on Broadway) and Barbra Streisand (in the 1969 film) at least temporarily into the wings.
All good, yes?
Enter, stage wrong, Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout, whose review features the headline Disaster Despite a Diva.
Money quote #1, regarding the – well – musical part of the musical.
Ms. Midler’s singing voice is in a desperate, sometimes shocking state of disrepair.
Money quote #2, regarding Brantley’s “clamorous memories of Carol Channing.”
As for the rest of the performance, Ms. Midler doesn’t even bother to act: She simply comes on stage and plays her familiar self, albeit at a disturbingly low level of energy. Unlike Carol Channing, who created the role, she can’t dance and isn’t funny (I was actually embarrassed by her mugging in the courtroom scene). All she has to offer is the memory of a great career, and if that’s enough for you, then you’ll be happy to shell out to see her in “Hello, Dolly!”
There’s one thing the two critics do agree on, however. The audience is more than happy to shell out.
Brantley: “Ms. Midler is generating a succession of seismic responses that make Trump election rallies look like Quaker prayer meetings.”
Teachout: “I’ve never seen a performance of anything at which there was so unanimous a consensus on the part of the audience that the diva could do no wrong.”
Exit, stage right.