Broadway Babes Bette & Bernadette: The Saga of Hello Dolly and Big Bucks Broadway

By Robert Heide

BROADWAY BABES: Bernadette Peters (left) and Bette Midler (right) in the stunning red Dolly Levi costumes designed by Santo Loquasto for Hello Dolly. Photos courtesy of DKC/O&M.

Bette Midler returns in Hello Dolly on July 17th in one of the best musicals ever to grace Broadway. Midler won the best actress Tony Award in June, 2017 for her right-on performance as Dolly Levi, a role originally portrayed by the incredible Carol Channing when the musical first opened in January 1964. Other “Dollies” followed Channing on the Great White Way, including Betty Grable and Ginger Rogers, as well as show-stopper performances by Ethel Merman and Pearl Bailey. The current show, directed by Jerry Zaks, with music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, has had critical acclaim and it was said that it has sold $30 million in tickets so far. New York Magazine cites Midler in the show as “a once in a lifetime Dolly.”

Midler starred in 24 Hollywood movies; and one of my favorites was The Rose based on the short life of the rock superstar Janis Joplin. The fine actor Fred Forrest, who began his career at La Mama ETC in the East Village, played the love interest to perfection. Both Fred and Bette received Academy Award nominations for The Rose. A young Bette first acted on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof in 1967. As a live performer, she began to belt out songs with Barry Manilow pounding the ivories at the Continental Baths, a gay sex club for men in 1970. Developing a wide following of gay customers, Midler’s act landed on Broadway where it broke records at the Palace Theatre. The widely acclaimed musical revue Clams on the Half Shell at the Minskoff followed suit. Her recording singles and albums were hot sellers with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, originally a top 78 rpm in the 1940s from the Andrews Sisters, becoming her biggest hit.

When Bette had to leave Dolly for a film, she suggested that Bernadette Peters would be perfect to take on the Dolly Gallagher Levi part. Peters, now a seasoned star, first appeared at the age of 16 in Dames at Sea at the Caffe Cino in 1966. Dames became a big hit there and again later found success off-Broadway. After Dames, she was cast by Robert Dahdah (the director of Dames) in a show he wrote and directed entitled Curly McDimple, a take-off musical based on Shirley Temple films. In it, she took on the role of movie star Alice Faye. Broadway followed and Peters appeared in shows like George M, Mack and Mabel, Annie Get Your Gun and the Steven Sondheim musicals Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods and in a revival of Follies. When Peters sang the song Losing My Mind on the night I saw it, the audience stood up shouting “Bravo!” Her record albums have all been top-sellers in the marketplace and her films include Pennies from Heaven, with Steve Martin, as well as the movie version of Annie based on the comic character Little Orphan Annie.

Bernadette concludes her scheduled and acclaimed engagement Sunday, July 15th. From Tuesday, July 17th until the conclusion of this historic Hello Dolly at the Shubert Theatre on Saturday, August 25, 2018 Bette Midler will take back the role of Dolly Levi. The show will begin its National Tour in Cleveland at the Connor Palace on Playhouse Square on October 2, 2018 starring the legendary, Tony Award winning Betty Buckley.

Robert Heide is the author, most recently, of Robert Heide 25 Plays selling at the Drama Bookshop, Three Lives in the Village, at the Whitney Museum and online at

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