By Barry Reszel
I have been keeping a deep secret for more than 35 years: During a majority of my high school years, I harbored a major crush on an older woman.
She came into our home weekly, her fresh face appearing as her co-star sang melodiously:
“We spend our days like bright and shiny new dimes
If we’re ever puzzled by the changing times
There’s a plate of homemade wishes on the kitchen window sill
And eight is enough to fill our lives with love.”
It’s far easier to accept the truth of unrequited love decades removed from the raw emotion. And I understand now that I was but one of legions who fell in love with Betty Buckley as Abby Bradford on the ABC comedy-drama Eight is Enough in the late 70s and early 80s.
Far less angsty than This is Us but with enough meat to feel authentic, the show featured Buckley as the beloved stepmom to the eight children of a Sacramento newspaper columnist. More importantly, to her TV family and all of us watching, she was the gorgeous, cool, adult voice of rationality and honesty wrapped always in kindness.
If it was all a bit schmaltzy, well, add it to the list of things we’re missing from contemporary television.
And if, perchance, these opening paragraphs leave you smiling or remembering the emotion of a school-days crush from years ago, you’d best secure your tickets to Broadway in Chicago’s Hello Dolly today. Because Buckley’s resplendent high cheekbones, dazzling smile, command of the stage, stunning voice and Tony-awarded pedigree are all appearing at the Oriental Theatre for a short time only.
In this national tour of the Broadway production that starred Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters, Buckley assumes the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a turn-of-the-20th century matchmaker in New York. Indeed, this 1964 Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Michael Stewart (book) 10-time Tony Award-winner, based on Thornton Wilder’s comedy, The Matchmaker is among the most well-known shows in the American musical theatre canon.
That original production starred Carol Channing, and the musical has been used as a showcase for mature A-list actresses. Buckley now assumes her proper place among Broadway royalty with such luminaries as Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Pearl Bailey, Samantha Spiro, Midler, Peters and others.
The 2017 four-time Tony-winning production (including Best Revival of a Musical), picturesquely directed by Jerry Zaks, centers on three couples’ hilarious pursuits toward happiness and romance. (A full plot summary and production history may be read here.)
Indeed, this touring version of the Broadway production that closed in August is a delight in every way. Visually, Santo Loquasto‘s stunning sets and nostalgic, post card-like visual effects take patrons back to a kinder, simpler time, punctuated by his period-perfect and opulent wardrobing with a few spectacular set-surprises (I won’t be a spoiler here, but do not, under any circumstances, slip out to the washroom and miss “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”).
So, too, Warren Carlyle’s jaw-dropping choreography (every number with the full company and the entire Harmonia Gardens experience) combined with Robert Billig‘s musical direction show off this 30-plus member cast (and their splendid musicians) as the professionals they are. It’s all wrapped in the gorgeous, well-known songbook highlighted by such tunes as “It Takes a Woman,” “Ribbons Down My Back,” “Penny in My Pocket,” “It Only Takes a Moment” and, of course, the title song itself.
In addition to the glamorous star, featured actors Lewis J. Stadlen as widower Horace Vandergelder; lovely Analisa Leaming as millinery shop owner Irene Molloy; stalwart Nic Rouleau as Vandergelder clerk/Molloy suitor Cornelius Hackl; Jess LeProtto and Kristen Hahn as the sweet Barnaby Tucker and Minnie Fay; and Morgan Kirner as the piercingly-voiced Vandergelder niece Ermengarde all exude romanticism and authenticity along with spectacular vocals and dancing ability.
Two additional members of the tireless ensemble receive mention here for their local ties. Dance Captain Ian Liberto is a Broadway veteran who appeared in this 2017 Broadway production of Dolly as well as How to Succeed…; Promises, Promises; Billy Elliot; Chaplin; and numerous national tours. Cassie Austin Taylor is making her national tour debut with this company after receiving her BFA in musical theatre from BYU and appearing at the MUNY in St. Louis and Music Theatre Wichita. Both of these talented performers are graduates of Libertyville High School.
Yes, Betty Buckley has traded her eight television step-children for eight shows a week with a new work family. Perhaps one among her contemporary young charges will ask her to sing the seldom-remembered second verse of the Eight is Enough theme song:
“Oh, we’re lucky we can share this beautiful stage.
So many find the world an empty place.
Anyone who asks to stand alone is always standing still,
And eight is enough to fill our lives with love.”
Broadway in Chicago presents “Hello Dolly” through November 17 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.