Bette Midler opens tonight in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway. This isn’t a review because there are no press seats except for the main reviewers. A lot of regular theater press has been offered the chance to buy tickets. Midler is doing no press, either. Why bother? They have a $40 million advance. She’s being paid around $100,000 a week, plus is probably getting a cut of the net take. For that kind of dough the former Divine Miss M doesn’t have to answer a single question except “Where’s the deposit slip?”
There’s no red carpet tonight, either, in keeping with producer Scott Rudin’s pattern of eschewing opening nights. There’ll be a big party at the New York Public Library, but Bette won’t stay very long. She needs her rest! According to reports she’s suffering from vocal problems and exhaustion.
That’s because Midler is 71 years old. Ruth Gordon was 59 in 1955 when she played Dolly in Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker” on Broadway. When Carol Channing invented the musical role in 1964, she was only 43. When she last performed the role in 1995, Channing was a little older than Midler– 74– but she knew it by heart. Channing (now 96!) still managed to make 111 performances during that last run. And no one filled in for her on matinees. (Donna Murphy is doing that for Midler.)
When Channing vacated Dolly in 1967, Pearl Bailey took over. She was only 55 when she took the role for three years until 1970.
That’s when Ethel Merman arrived. Merman, born in 1908, was just 62 when she became Dolly. That’s still 8 years younger than Midler. (I know, you’re thinking we thought these ladies were old then. They weren’t!)
Dolly Levi is not supposed to be carrying an AARP card. So the matinees may be the way to go since Donna Murphy recently turned 58. David Hyde Pierce, who’s playing Horace vanDerGelder? He’s also 58. (And let’s not forget Barbra Streisand was only 27 when she did the movie– way too young!)
When she was young, no one had more energy than Bette Midler. Her stage shows were like Broadway productions. She climbed out of clam shells and so on. But all that was in the late 1970s and early 80s– 40 years ago. Midler was just in her 30s. Time flies. The wind is beneath our wings! Still, the funniest moment ever on the Grammys was when Bette appeared wearing a 45 rpm single in her hair. Those were the days!
PS Louis Armstrong was only 63 when he had his chart topping hit (seven weeks at number 1) with “Hello, Dolly!”) in 1964.