“Relief, sheer relief,” she said. “This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” harder even, she added, than the one-woman show, “I’ll Eat You Last,” she did on Broadway in 2013 or any of her concert tours over the years. “The stress has been just incredible,” she said with a shake of her head. “Can you believe Carol Channing did something like 7,000 performances of this show?”
Around her the party was in full swing, and the recurring topic of conversation was Ms. Midler’s return to Broadway in a musical more than 40 years after appearing in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“It was worth the wait,” chirped an ebullient Michael Kors, calling her performance “one for the ages” and professing not to be miffed that Ms. Midler had chosen another designer for her outfit that night, even though she had often worn his clothes in the past. “But, you know, given how great she was tonight, if she had shown up here in a burlap bag, I would have been thrilled.”
The cabaret performer Bridget Everett, ducked out of the way as a never-ending stream of waiters passed by bearing trays of beef Wellington, chicken potpies and flutes of Champagne. She said she had been overwhelmed both by Ms. Midler’s performance and the show itself. “I cried three times,” she said. “At the singing of ‘Hello, Dolly!,’ at the finale, and then at the curtain call, all three times out of sheer joy.”
Among the people in that curtain call was the actor Gavin Creel, who plays “chief clerk” Cornelius Hackl. He called it an “out of body experience” to share the stage with Ms. Midler in this revival of the Jerry Herman/Michael Stewart musical.
“She’s someone I’ve just idolized forever,” he said. “Embarrassingly — no, not embarrassingly — I can recite ‘Beaches’ from start to finish. Probably ‘Big Business’ as well. But I have to say that I’m not on stage with ‘Bette Midler.’ That’s not a movie star up there. That’s an actress who is a perfectionist and is totally committed to this role and the woman she is playing.”
Earlier, the young Oscar-nominated actor Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”), born more than three decades after the original production opened on Broadway in 1964, called Ms. Midler’s performance “magical” and said “Hello, Dolly!” was “the kind of show you can’t imagine anyone trying to do today.” (Perhaps betraying both his youth and his limited knowledge of theatrical lore, he did ask, “Who did it originally, Barbra Streisand?”)
The author and playwright Paul Rudnick (currently developing a musical version of “The Devil Wears Prada”), knew of course that the role had been created by Carol Channing and said he had actually seen her. “I saw the absolute last Carol Channing tour,” he said triumphantly.
That show, he said, “had its own magic to it, but it was nothing like this. This was just staggeringly wonderful.”
“I think what was so surprising about this production was how moving it is, how emotional,” he added. “And I think it’s because people are in such a state of anxiety right now, that we needed this concentrated burst of happiness. I haven’t been in a room full of that many happy people in quite a while.”
Later, when Ms. Midler was told of Mr. Rudnick’s comments — “Oh, was Paul here? I’m so pleased” — she said she agreed with his assessment that the time was right for a revival of a show like ‘Dolly.”
“I do think it has an important message for us right now,” said Ms. Midler, who has been an active critic of President Trump on her Twitter feed. “That all these people, with all these differences, these conflicts, can come together in a joyous way.”
She added that the original production of “Hello, Dolly!,” when it was in tryouts in Washington, opened about a week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. “I think that show, with its message of hope, really helped people come together and heal after that tragic event. It’s a message that we need today, perhaps more than ever.”
With that, Ms. Midler glided back into the throng of admirers waiting to offer their congratulations.
“Now that’s royalty,” someone said as she passed. “There’s no one else like her.”