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Movie and theatrical producer Scott Rudin said Tuesday that the Divine Miss M will take on the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in a revival of the classic musical due to start next year.
“There has not been a new production in 50 years,” Rudin told The Associated Press. “Partly it was the difficulty of who could play Dolly. It had to be someone who could take it to a different level. Bette is the only one who can. Never has there been something more inevitable than her in this role.”
The musical tells the story of matchmaker and schemer Dolly Levi who receives her toughest challenge yet when a rich grump seeks a suitable wife. It’s a musical version of Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker.”
Performances on Broadway begin on March 13, 2017, with an official opening night of April 20, 2017. Rehearsals begin one year from Tuesday.
Midler and Rudin were in conversations about the role for a year. The actress and singer threw herself into researching it, reading and watching all she could, Rudin said. He added that both wanted to explore Dolly’s warmth, desperation and humanity.
The show features a rousing score by Jerry Herman that’s bursting with joy and tunes like “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” ”Before the Parade Passes By” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”
The revival will be directed by four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks and have choreography by Tony-winner Warren Carlyle. The creators say the new work will pay tribute to Gower Champion, the show’s original director and choreographer.
Midler steps into the role previously performed by Pearl Bailey, Phillis Diller, Betty Grable, Ethel Merman, Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers and, of course, Carol Channing, who originated it on Broadway in 1964 — it ran for seven years and became the longest playing Broadway musical at the time — and who came back in revivals in 1995-96 and 1978. Barbra Streisand also played Dolly on screen in a 1969 film version directed by Gene Kelly.
It marks Midler’s first time back on Broadway since she was in the exhausting 2013 one-woman Broadway show “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers,” which was a huge box office hit, recouped its $2.4 million investment in just over eight weeks but garnered no Tony Award nominations.
In a 2014 interview with The Associated Press, Midler insisted she had no hard feelings for the snub. “I thought it was a fantastic experience. It was like being in a bubble, in a dream. It was completely out of body. I don’t know how I did it.”
Midler made her Broadway debut as Tzeitel in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and later returned in concerts, including “Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half Shell Revue” and “Bette! Divine Madness,” which earned her a special Tony Award in 1974. She also was a producer of the musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.”
Midler is the recipient of three Grammys, four Golden Globes and three Emmys. Her films include “The Rose,” ”Gypsy,” ”Hocus Pocus,” ”The First Wives Club,” ”Beaches” and “For the Boys.” Her latest album is “A Gift of One.”
Rudin, who has been a fan of Midler’s for years and produced her film “The First Wives Club,” said she is the perfect choice — an electric singer, a powerful actress and a savvy stage veteran. “Shows used to be built around a star like this,” he said. “Now it will again.” ”
Last year, Midler’s North American tour brought her to Texas. She performed in Houston after releasing her CD It’s the Girls!
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