Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hello Dolly

I watched a large part of Hello Dolly last night, the movie starring Barbra Streisand & Walter Matthau. My impression generally of Broadway musicals is that most are elaborate drag shows, with women playing the female parts as men dressed as women. Hello Dolly was the gayest musical I ever saw. There isn't a single convincingly heterosexual male role in the production. At the center is a queen of queens, fittingly played by Streisand as the ultimate Barbra Streisand impersonator doing Barbra rather than Carol or Pearl as Dolly Gallagher Levi (with Streisand, it's more Levi Gallagher). Oh. those hats! Matthau plays the grumpy old bachelor (chlldless widower), Horace Vandergelder, twice Dolly's age. We need not even discuss the two shop clerk best buddies, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, more comfortable with each other than they'll ever be with girls ( in the Broadway production, Charles Nelson Reilly played Cornelius). Between feats of acrobatic tray juggling, the astounding dancing waiters of Harmonia Gardens literally pranced about with rumps protruding like nubile women in a fertility ceremony. In the most unpleasant, impossible of endings, the free-spirited, irrepressible Dolly abandons her downtown New York City lifestyle to live happily ever after as the dutiful wife of a boring, unaffectionate bourgeois shopkeeper in provincial Yonkers. Even more unbelievable given Matthau despised Streisand & there isn't a hint of chemistry or growing affection between them. Their relationship is more inexplicable than the cop-out Lerner & Loewe implied for Henry Higgins & Eliza Doolittle at the conclusion of My Fair Lady.

Two decades later, Dolly composer/lyricist Jerry Herman, along with Harvey Fierstein, collaborated on La Cage aux Folles, a remarkable & very funny look at how straight & gay relationships are essentially the same, but disguised it as a drag show, & chose a straight actor, George Hearn, to play Albin, the female impersonator "wife" of a nightclub owner.

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