A front-row Broadway ticket to see Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly!” was a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list experience for Bainbridge Branch Manager Eric Coulbourne.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Bette Midler. In fact, in my office at our branch, I have an American Library Association READ poster featuring her. When I first heard that Bette Midler was going to be appearing in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, I was very excited and so desperately wanted to see it.  I had always wanted to see Bette Midler in concert, but the cost and locations were cost prohibitive. The revival opened in April of 2017, and the Divine Miss M ended her engagement with the show in January of 2018. I thought I had missed yet another opportunity to see her perform. Miss Midler was replaced by Bernadette Peters in the Broadway run, which I am sure was an equally wonderful experience for all. My desire to see Bette Midler, however, was pure and a substitute could not be accepted. I was disappointed that another opportunity to see her perform had come and gone. Bette Midler is 72. I was sure all opportunity to see her was gone. I would have to satisfy my fandom in other ways.  

It was a sign from the gods when it was announced that Bette Midler would be returning to her role as Dolly Levi on July 17 for an extended run. This time I wasn’t taking any chances, I would book myself a seat. I went to the website to order the tickets and was stunned to see that there was a front row ticket available. I felt nervous spending such a large sum on myself but finally came to the conclusion that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not only was I going to have the pleasure of seeing Bette, but I would also get to see David Hyde Pierce, Tony nominee Kate Baldwin, and Tony winner Gavin Creel, all for the price of one very expensive ticket! 

I arranged my flight to New York City and waited for the day to arrive. In the meantime, I was quick to think of everything that could possibly go wrong. The plane would be delayed or canceled. I would not be able to find my way on the subways and buses. I would get sick or someone would die. The possibilities of what could go wrong were endless. The day arrived and  I boarded the plane without delays or cancelations. Upon arriving in New York, I was feeling very nervous about finding the right bus and/or subway to get to the theatre district. I bought a bus pass and, fortunately, I overheard a woman sharing how to get the subways to get to Times Square. I boarded the bus, got off at the appropriate stop, and boarded what I thought was the correct subway only to find that it was going the wrong direction!  It was already 3 p.m. and I had to be at the theatre at 6:30 p.m. at the very latest. I got off at the next stop and ran to the ticket booth to ask the best way to get to Times Square. I boarded the correct subway and emerged from underground right where I needed to be with plenty of time to spare. I found the Schubert Theatre and stayed near and enjoyed the amusements in Times Square until curtain time. 

I made my way back to the theatre and got in line in anticipation of seeing the Divine Miss M. I chatted with a few people in line and the excitement was contagious. Everyone was agog at the thought of seeing Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce, Gavin Creel, and Kate Baldwin, not to mention that the show itself had won a Tony for Best Musical Revival. When the house finally opened, I burst into the theatre and quickly found my seat in the front row. I was soon joined by a woman who had flown all the way from Australia to see the show! We both chatted excitedly about how we could not wait for the show to begin. Then I started to flip through my program and saw the dreaded white slip of paper announcing that there was an alternate in the cast. My heart sank as I reached for it and flipped it over, praying that it was not announcing that Donna Murphy, not Bette, would be playing the role of Dolly Levi. Much to my relief as well as my seat mate’s, it announced the character Ernestina Money was being played by an alternate. Our excitement and anticipation restored, we awaited the rise of the curtain. 

The lights dimmed, the orchestra began the overture, and I could almost feel the collective intake of breath as everyone anticipated the rise of the curtain and the appearance of the star-studded cast. The audience absolutely erupted when Bette finally appeared. Such joy and excitement I have never heard from fellow theatergoers, and I can honestly say I have never been to a show where there were so many standing ovations. The audience rose when Miss Midler entered. They rose when Gavin Creel entered. They rose when David Hyde Pierce appeared and rose yet again when Miss Baldwin took the stage. The intensity of the audience that evening was something I will never forget. It was a rather intimate space with only a little over 1,400 seats. To give some perspective, the State Theatre in Cleveland seats 3400. It really made me feel that this was how theatre was supposed to be experienced — close to the stage with the contagious energy and adulation for the cast.  

After the intermission, the audience was greeted by David Hyde Pierce singing “A Penny in My Pocket, for which, the audience again rose. As Act II progressed, chorus members displayed their skill and talent at the beginning of the Harmonia Gardens scene. The audience was treated to a troupe of dancers who exemplified precision, elegance, and grace. I was not expecting at all to be impressed by the chorus, but they worked hard to integrate themselves among the stars in the cast. Bette made a divine entrance into Harmonia Gardens and gracefully sang and danced her way into the hearts of everyone in the theatre, only to be topped by her and David Hyde Pierce’s scene in the restaurant. They displayed their comfort, ease, and chemistry with one another, ad-libbing, smiling and laughing with their cast mates. There was no doubt all of them were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Right up to the end everyone in the cast gave one hundred percent. The cast returned for a glorious curtain call with an overwhelming standing ovation. Then Bette Midler made her way across the apron of the stage touching the hands of the crowd as she passed. For a moment I thought I would be passed, but our eyes met and the Divine Miss M came over and grabbed my hands. Yes, Bette Midler and I had a moment! I will not forget it as long as I live! This was the best day of my life. It was a wonderful show with a stellar cast. My evening was only topped off by waiting at the stage door and getting Gavin Creel’s autograph on the poster I had purchased at intermission. My smile lasted the rest of the day. 

I recently saw the touring production of Hello, Dolly! in Cleveland with the Betty Buckley in the title role. Though her performance was admirable, it would never measure up to my amazing day in New York City. It was a day when I finally fulfilled an item on my bucket list — seeing Bette Midler perform. It was truly a once in a lifetime event. To get a taste of my evening in New York City, check out The New Broadway Cast Recording of Hello, Dolly! 

Click here to see Hello Dolly! in the catalog. 

Editor’s note: While Playhouse Square in Cleveland isn’t Broadway, it does bring notable shows to northeast Ohio. If you’re looking for a holiday experience or an event to make your 2018 holiday season memorable, check out what’s happening under the Chandelier at any of Cleveland’s historic theaters.

A few notable Playhouse Square performances: