Bette Midler, resplendent in a sequined scarlet gown and with feathers in her hair, leads a line of male dancers in a rousing promenade at New York’s Shubert Theatre.
‘Wow, wow, wow fellas; look at the ol’ gal now, fellas!’ Bette sings, as she sashays saucily around the orchestra pit, the audience on its feet, going wild.
It’s a classic Broadway moment, for any number of reasons.
Hello, Dolly!, based on Thornton Wilder’s play about meddling matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, boasts music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart.
Carole Channing created the role on Broadway (I caught her in a so-so revival in the mid-Nineties); and there’s great affection for that title song, which I remember belting out in a school gang show once upon a time, a long time ago.
Then we have Ms Midler, last seen on Broadway as Hollywood agent Sue Mengers in I’ll Eat You Last, four years ago. Incredibly, Hello, Dolly! is the first musical she’s starred in with her name emblazoned above the title.
The combination of the 71-year-old indestructible star, the indestructible show and that iconic song is magical.
Which might explain why Hello, Dolly!, stunningly directed by Jerry Zaks, beautifully choreographed by Warren Carlyle (with Gower Champion’s original steps acknowledged) and produced like a love letter to theatre by Scott Rudin, has an advance topping $40 million (£32 million).
During the interval, I overheard a couple talking about how they ‘couldn’t take their eyes off’ the divine Miss M.
I knew what they meant. She moved with such ease, sang with such gusto — and looked every inch a star, displaying a lightness of touch that not only looks easy, but which she has been perfecting for half a century.
I’m still chuckling about her entrance on a trolleybus — and an Act Two moment when she eats her dinner while her pals are in the dock in a courtroom. It’s the funniest show in town.
In a programme note, Ms Midler offered ‘profound thanks’ to the creators, and said it was ‘a privilege and honour to share the stage with this brilliant, talented, hard-working company’.
The feeling is obviously mutual — I noticed a dancer deftly hold on to her when, for a split second, there appeared to be some danger of her falling into the orchestra pit.
A couple of blocks away, Glenn Close, 70, gives an unforgettable performance in Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard; while four streets away, Patti LuPone, 67, and Christine Ebersole, 64, eclipse their material with star turns in new musical War Paint (about Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden).
But Broadway belongs to Bette in Hello, Dolly! She’s still goin’ strong.