Consider this well-found fact that this 1969 musical has gained more popularity since it was featured in Pixar’sWALL-E, and has boosted its DVD sales compared to its last four decades’ worth of box office gross. That says an awful lot for a film where public consciousness has been drawn towards it not because of the film itself, but through another medium. For all the loveliness and resonating sentimentality entrenched in WALL-E, where the musical’s unabashed romanticism is masterfully evoked (see the great opener in the tune of Michael Crawford’s “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” to an ironically bleak, visceral wasteland, and “It Only Takes A Moment” with Wall-E and Eve clinching in the rustic shack) – Hello, Dolly! is completely the opposite. Extraordinarily theatrical, cluttered, bloated, and shriekingly shallow. The primary plot involves a widower, supposedly in her menopausal phase, gallivanting around New York City and Yonkers, New York pairing lovey-dovey couples, even ill-matched ones, whilst surreptitiously slicing her way into famous Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder (a name that rings like cash) beyond everyone’s belief, including the oblivious Vandergelder himself. Dolly Levi is not only a matchmaker by profession but essentially a conspirator, a manipulator and provider of man’s illusions. Not to mention, Barbra Streisand, despite of her terrific presence, comedic gab, and soul-sweeping vocal jurisdiction (she was the warbling mega-star of the world at the time, where Julie Andrews vacated the podium for a while), is also terribly miscast, a 27-year old actress playing a fifty-something woman, making her worldly-wise put-upon wholly unconvincing and her chemistry with leading middle-aged man Walter Matthau nondescript. And the musical sequences such as “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and the utterly bombastic and lavish scenes in the Harmonia Gardens are fun but the set-pieces are ringing with clear contrivances and unnecessary. Dolly Levi’s entrance is given more social importance than even the Queen of England gets, and Harmonia Gardens end up like a stage, a restaurant porn. Okay, Louis Armstrong gets a cameo, but he only appears for five minutes as the Gardens’ bandleader, and then disappears entirely. His screen presence, whilst thrilling, competes with that of Streisand. What were the studio honchos thinking, “Oh, let’s get Armstrong in this, just for the hell of it.”
If there’s a musical that makes you think less of the musical genre, it’s Hello, Dolly! Extravagant, pompous, shriekingly shallow and has a terribly miscast Streisand. No wonder why it bombed and sealed the death of musicals circa 1969.