Betty Buckley to lead US national tour of 'Hello, Dolly!'

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2014, file photo, Betty Buckley performs at "Everybody, Rise! A Celebration of Elaine Stritch" in New York. Buckley, the Tony Award-winning actress who belted out "Memories" in "Cats" on Broadway and starred in "Eight Is Enough" on TV, has been tapped to lead the national tour of "Hello, Dolly!" (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)

Betty Buckley has been tapped to lead the national tour of "Hello, Dolly!"

NEW YORK — Tony Award-winning actress Betty Buckley has been tapped to lead the national tour of the latest exuberant Broadway production of "Hello, Dolly!" a gig she calls "such a gift."

"I'm just so happy to take such a happy show all around America. It's like 'Make America Happy Again,'" Buckley told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's like an antidote."

Buckley will star as matchmaker and schemer Dolly Levi in the production that won four Tony Awards last year, including best revival on Broadway and best actress in a musical for Bette Midler, who also played Levi.

Buckley saw the show with Midler this winter and "was in rapture," sitting in the second row and weeping. The production was "one of the most joyous pieces of musical theater I have ever experienced."

"Bette Midler was absolutely like an ice cream sundae. You just wanted to scoop her up," Buckley said. Producer Scott Rudin reached out and she didn't need much persuading, citing the cast, production values and costume designs. "I'm such a fan of this production and I'm such a fan of Bette's that it never occurred to me that it was something I would be invited to do."

The tour kicks off Oct. 2 at Cleveland's Playhouse Square. It will have lengthy stops in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Full tour dates and cities will be announced shortly, as will the rest of the cast. Bernadette Peters has inherited the Broadway role of Levi.

The show is a musical version of Thornton Wilder's play "The Matchmaker" with the songs "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," ''Before the Parade Passes By" and "So Long Dearie."

She spoke while on the way to New Orleans to shoot the third season of the AMC series "Preacher," playing Dominic Cooper's grandmother.

Buckley won a Tony as Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" in the 1982 original Broadway production and received her second Tony nomination for best actress in a musical for her performance as Hesione in "Triumph of Love." She also starred in "Eight Is Enough" on TV.

Buckley won an Olivier Award nomination in the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard." Her other Broadway credits include "1776," ''Pippin," ''Song and Dance" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," in which she died onstage eight times a week.

Now she'll step into the role previously performed by Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Betty Grable, Mary Martin, Midler, Donna Murphy and Bernadette Peters.

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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