“The Broadway stage supports 86,000 jobs, so the arts are a source of revenue for the city, and a great source of revenue for the United States if only they weren’t so narrow-minded and perverse about helping with the NEA and helping the arts out in our world,” said Bette Midler backstage at the Tony Awards after winning Best Actress in a Musical for “Hello Dolly!” She was referring to proposed federal budget cuts for the National Endowment for the Arts, a recurring frustration for this year’s Tony winning theater professionals. “They are dead-set on making barbarians out of all of us and all of our children. I don’t want to be a barbarian. I want to have color and beauty in life, and I think everybody in their heart of hearts does — Bette Midler for president!”
Midler plays the title matchmaker in “Hello Dolly!” a production with a storied awards history. The original Broadway production in 1964 won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Actress (Carol Channing). Its success prompted a movie adaptation in 1969 starring Barbra Streisand that was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and won three Oscars out of seven nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Sound, and Best Score of a Musical (Original or Adaptation).
Over the years the show was revived three times on Broadway with limited awards success. A 1975 production run for under two months and earned no Tony nominations. Then a 1978 staging earned just a single nomination for Best Actor in a Musical (Eddie Bracken). A 1995 production of “Hello Dolly!” earned a single nomination for Best Musical Revival. Now comes this 2017 version with its remarkable 10 nominations and four wins, also including Best Musical Revival and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Gavin Creel). Midler is actually the first actor to win a Tony for playing Dolly Gallagher Levi since Channing 53 years ago.
Midler has long been known for her live performances, but this was her first competitive Tony nomination and win. She previously won a Special Award in 1974, but now that she has won for “Dolly” she is officially just an Oscar away from completing her EGOT grand slam of show business awards. She previously won three Grammys, including Best New Artist (1974) and Record of the Year (“Wind Beneath My Wings,” 1990). She’s also a three-time Emmy winner: Best Variety Special for “Bette Midler: Ol’ Red Hair is Back” (1978) and Best Variety Performance for “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” (1992) and “Bette Midler in Concert: Diva Las Vegas” (1997).
All Midler is missing is an Oscar, and she has already gotten within striking distance of that prize. She earned Best Actress nominations for “The Rose” (1979) and “For the Boys” (1991). And maybe after that, the White House? What do you think of Midler’s victory? Watch her press room video above, and discuss this and more with your fellow theater fans in our forums.