Betty Buckley has been a fan of Dolly Levi ever since she was in college and saw Pearl Bailey play the part on Broadway.
Bailey, who won a Tony Award for the role, was only one of the famous Dollys that include Carol Channing and Barbra Streisand and, more recently, Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters. Now, Buckley is putting her own spin on the famous matchmaker in the touring company of “Hello, Dolly,” which runs Nov. 20- 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Buckley, who won her own Tony Award for playing Grizabella in “Cats” in 1983, says stepping into Dolly’s shoes is a challenge but that she doesn’t model her performance after anyone else’s.
“You can’t do it the way anybody else did,” she says. “You have your own skill set. I’m just grateful to be part of the Dolly Levi fraternity.”
Buckley’s career has included Broadway roles like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” TV shows like “Eight is Enough,” “Oz” and “Preacher” and films like “Carrie” and “Split.” But theater energizes and inspires her, even though it requires tremendous physical training.
This is not a bad thing.
“I lost 35 pounds!” she says, laughing. “It’s a real gift for me to be in really strong shape.”
Buckley believes that the play’s story of a woman of a certain age taking steps to make herself happy still connects with audiences. That’s because of its source material, Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker.”
“I’m a huge Thornton Wilder fan,” she says. “The first play I did at Texas Christian was ‘The Skin of Our Teeth.’ He’s a brilliant writer of ironic comedy with social commentary that makes the story deeply funny and interesting. That’s also the mark of a great play. That ‘Hello, Dolly’ still resonates in 2018 is amazing.”
Excited as she is to be part of what she calls a “glorious, sumptuous production” by director Jerry Zaks, Buckley admits touring has its downside. Namely leaving her ranch in Texas (she’s a Fort Worth native). She brought three dogs with her on the tour but left the cats, horses and a donkey at home.
“I miss them,” she admits. “I can’t wait to see them at Christmas.”
As for Tom Hooper’s “Cats” movie, due out in 2019 with a cast that includes Taylor Swift, James Corden and Ian McKellen, she can’t wait to see it.
“I’m thrilled they’re finally doing it and using Judi Dench and Idris Elba. And Jennifer Hudson will kick ass with ‘Memory.’ ”
When: Nov. 20-25
Where: Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami