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Archive for October, 2019

Dear Evan Hansen
Book by Steven Levenson, Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Directed by Michael Greif
Choreographed by Danny Mefford
The Fox Theatre
October 23, 2019

Cast of Dear Evan Hansen
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Dear Evan Hansen National Tour

I was especially looking forward to the latest touring production at the Fox, having heard a great deal about it before, although I hadn’t managed to see it yet. Dear Evan Hansen has had a lot of hype, and won a lot of awards, and inspired quite a bit of debate along the way, and now it’s here in St. Louis in an engaging, thought-provoking, visually stunning production that’s timely and inventive, and sure to spark discussion about the various issues it raises. With striking technical qualities and an especially strong cast, it’s a show that, at least for me, has lived up to its hype.

This show is as striking for its format as it is for its story. While I’m sometimes skeptical of “teen” because they often seem to be using the same tropes over and over again, Dear Evan Hansen has something a little different to say along with some of the usual territory but with an inventive structure that makes it seem more fresh. The story focuses on various issues including mental health, teen suicide, parent-child relationships, communication in the social media age, and more. It centers on Evan Hansen (Stephen Michael Anthony), a socially awkward teenager who writes letters to himself as an assignment from his therapist. Evan lives with his constantly busy single mother, Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman), who works a full-time job as a nurse and also takes classes to become a paralegal, so she doesn’t have as much time as she would like to spend with Evan. Starting his senior year of high school, Evan isn’t particularly looking forward to school. He doesn’t have any friends to speak of, except for the snarky Jared (Alessandro Costantini), who seems to only talk to Evan because their families know each other. Evan also has a crush on schoolmate Zoe Murphy (Stephanie La Rochelle), who has a difficult life of her own, with a troubled older brother Connor (Noah Kieserman) and parents, Larry (John Hemphill) and Cynthia (Claire Rankin) who seem so preoccupied with Connor that they don’t pay as much attention to Zoe. When Connor and Evan briefly cross paths before an unexpected tragic event, Evan finds himself caught in a web of untruths that start as a misunderstanding and then spiral into more, until before Evan knows it, he’s all over social media and getting more attention than he ever could have dreamed. With the assistance of Jared–who knows the truth–and another classmate, Alana (Ciara Alyse Harris)–who doesn’t know–Evan becomes leader of a movement, as he also grows closer to Zoe and her family, and his relationship with his own mother grows increasingly strained. As events go spiraling out of Evan’s control, and as his new-found popularity begins to affect his personality, Evan is faced with a difficult choice. What will he do, and how will these events effect everyone around him?

This is a dynamically staged show, with a look and feel unlike other musicals I’ve seen. David Korins’s scenic design features movable set pieces representing Evan’s bedroom, the Murphys’ house, and more, and everything is surrounded by screens with projections designed by Peter Negrini, representing social media posts, e-mails, and more, in a constant flow of information that coincides with the plot as it unfolds. There’s also striking lighting  by Japhy Weideman that enhances the overall look and feel of the production, and detailed character-specific costumes by Emily Rebholz. The band, led by music director Garret Healey, delivers the driving, emotional, contemporary sounding score with flair.

The cast for this show is deceptively small. There are eight characters, but the staging and big sound make it seem like there are more. There is some support from various voices representing the social media posts, but onstage there are only the eight cast members, led by a truly remarkable performance from Anthony as the fast-talking, nervous, initially lonely, conflicted Evan. Anthony has a great tenor voice for songs like “Waving Through a Window”, “For Forever”, “You Will Be Found”, and “Words Fail”. Evan is very much the center of this show, and Anthony’s performance drives the story well. Also excellent is La Rochelle in a relatable and well-sung performance as Zoe, as well as Hemphill and Harris as her struggling parents, and Sherman who is especially strong as the loving but overworked Heidi. There’s excellent support from Kieserman whose Connor becomes something of a voice of conscience for Evan; from Costantini as the sarcastic Jared; and Harris as the ambitious, somewhat bossy Alana. It’s a superb ensemble, surrounding Anthony’s tour-de-force performance with strong characterizations, vocals, and energy.

Dear Evan Hansen is a show that strikes me as a good basis for an ethics discussion, as it raises so many issues of what can happen when one small untruth spirals into something much, much bigger. It’s easy to think about something when you’re not in the middle of it, but what happens when things get out of control? Also, what is the role of peer pressure and viral social media culture in all this? This is a show that leaves a lot to think about, and to talk about. It’s also a showcase for a dynamic, remarkable lead performance and a stellar supporting cast. This Evan Hansen is definitely worth hearing from.

Steven Christopher Anthony, John Hemphill, Claire Rankin, Stephanie La Rochelle
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Dear Evan Hansen National Tour

 

The National Tour of Dear Evan Hansen is playing at the Fox Theatre until November 3, 2019

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Mary Poppins
Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh
Directed and Choreographed by Lara Teeter
Variety Theatre
October 19, 2019

Variety Theatre is currently revisiting one of its successful more recent productions, Mary Poppins, last staged in 2015. It’s a popular show for a reason, with larger-than-life characters, familiar songs and a story that many people remember from the iconic 1964 film, even though the stage version differs from the film in several notable ways. With this Variety staging, the focus is on inventive staging and choreography as is usual, and that’s a highlight, along with some fun technical features and an engaging cast.

If you’ve only seen the film of Mary Poppins, this version will seem familiar and new all at the same time. The story is mostly the same, as the “practically perfect” nanny of the title (Erica Stephan) swoops in to help the struggling Banks family, led by officious father George (Michael James Reed) and conflicted mother Winifred (Heather Matthews), along with their precocious and neglected children Jane (Taylor Gilbert) and Michael (Gabe Cytron) in early 20th-Century London. Also helping out is cheerful Cockney Jack-of-all-trades Bert (Drew Humphrey), who joins Mary and the children on various adventures and, in this version, narrates the story. While the gist of the story is the same as the film, some of the details have been changed up, leading up to a similar but somewhat different conclusion. For instance, more of George Banks’s backstory is included here, along with his imperious, terrorizing childhood nanny Miss Andrew (Debby Lennon). Also, some of the characters from the Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers are included here that weren’t in the film, and some of the movie songs have been reset to different situations. It’s a fun story overall, although I have to admit I prefer the film. Still, there are some excellent moments here, and some memorable new songs such as “Practically Perfect” and “Anything Can Happen If You Let It”.

The casting here is, for the most part, excellent, and like all Variety shows it features an outstanding youth ensemble featuring the Variety Children’s Charity’s Variety kids and other talented young performers. In fact, the ensemble moments are the most memorable here, featuring Lara Teeter’s inventive choreography and some fun flying effects by Flying by Foy, involving various youth ensemble members in addition to Mary Poppins herself. Stephan is a fine Mary, with a strong voice and excellent chemistry with the especially energetic Humphrey and the kids, although she takes a while to find her energy and her first appearance doesn’t display quite the sense of presence that the role requires. Gilbert and Cytron give winning performances as Jane and Michael, and Reed and Matthews work well together as the parents. There are also standout performances from Zoe Vonder Haar as housekeeper Mrs. Brill and John Kinney as household servant Robertson Ay. Also worth noting is Lennon’s small but scene-stealing performance as the menacing Miss Andrew, showing off her excellent operatic voice and strong stage presence.

Technically, the show looks about as one would expect, putting the large stage at the Touhill Performing Arts Center to good use. Dunsi Dai’s set consists of a series of colorful backdrops that are, at times, reminiscent of the look of the film, as are the costumes by Kansas City Costume Co. There’s also excellent lighting design by Nathan Scheuer, sound design by Rusty Wandall, and a first-rate orchestra conducted by music director Dr. Marc Schapman.

Overall, I would say this Mary Poppins is what audiences would expect.  It’s big, colorful, and well-cast, with those memorable songs that will probably play in your head for the rest of the day. It’s especially strong in the ensemble elements, with Variety’s excellent inventive staging. It’s an entertaining production from Variety, sure to appeal to all ages.

Variety Theatre is presenting Mary Poppins at UMSL’s Touhill Performing Arts Center until October 27, 2019

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The Lifespan of a Fact
by Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell
Based on the Book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
October 18, 2019

Griffin Osborne, Brian Slaten
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

“What is truth?” That’s a question that’s been asked by many at various times and in various settings, from the Bible (John 18:38), to philosophical treatises, to journalism, to politics, and beyond. The latest production from the Rep, The Lifespan of a Fact, explores this question from a writer’s, and editor’s perspective, also parsing out the difference between “facts” and “truth” and whether or not there is (or should be) any difference. It’s also a fast-paced, well-constructed and frequently funny look at its characters and their conflicts, staged with the Rep’s usual excellence in casting and production values.

The Lifespan of a Fact starts on a fairly typical business day for a magazine, as editor Emily Penrose (Perri Gaffney) is preparing to publish a new essay by celebrated writer John D’Agata (Brian Slaten). She praises the essay for its beauty, intensity, and truth, but as part of the regular publishing process, she enlists an intern, Jim Fingal (Griffin Osborne) to fact-check the piece. That’s where things get complicated, because Fingal turns out to be more zealous in his efforts than Emily expected, and John isn’t particularly receptive to Jim’s questioning, especially at first. The subject matter of the essay is a serious one–a Las Vegas Teenager’s suicide, and John wants to give the topic the weight that it calls for, but Jim keeps finding problems with the details. The quirky, somewhat intense Jim makes charts, draws diagrams, and researches the tiniest details to make sure John hasn’t taken liberties with the facts, eventually finding all sorts of discrepancies, from the seemingly insignificant to more important issues. Eventually, all three characters end up at John’s house in Las Vegas, and the questions keep coming. How much fudging of the facts is allowed in pursuit of a “true” story? Is the writer’s quest for a dramatically told, well-crafted story foiled by facts? Is there such a thing as writing the “essence of truth” without sticking to all the minute details? And which details are minute and which aren’t? Those questions and more are explored in this fast-paced, character-driven piece. The tone is mostly comedic, although are dramatic and poignant moments as well. Mostly, it’s a clash of personalities and philosophies, and ethical standards. It’s a fascinating topic of discussion, and it’s personified well in this “inspired by a true story” tale.

I think most, if not all, writers will recognize the dilemma–the need to tell the well-crafted story while accurately representing the facts. Also, what’s the difference between a “non-fiction” essay and a news article? And is rigorous, down-to-the-last-detail fact-checking necessary, or does it hinder the author’s creative process? This is a compelling story in that it represents both positions–John’s vs. Jim’s–while also providing a “middle ground” in the form of Emily, who wants the best for her magazine and serves as something of a mediator between the two positions. The cast is especially well-chosen, with Osborne’s quirky, frenetic Jim and Slaten’s stubborn, occasionally arrogant John providing much of the show’s dramatic and comedic energy, with Gaffney’s initially more measured, gradually exasperated Emily providing an able foil to both.

The staging is fast-paced, and well-served by Arnel Sancianco’s remarkably versatile quick-changing set that utilizes the Rep’s stage and newer technical features well as the locations switch between the minimally decorated magazine office and John’s cluttered home. Kathleen Geldard’s costumes suit the characters well, and Paul Toben’s lighting adds to the overall atmosphere of the production and serves to isolate characters and their situations as needed. There’s also excellent sound design by Christian Frederickson.

Overall, this show doesn’t really answer any of the questions it raises, but that would be a much bigger task than a simple three-character play can tackle, and it’s one that humankind will continue to struggle with through the ages. The question of facts vs. truth is also an especially timely topic in today’s society, and it’s well-personified here. I don’t think the purpose is to answer the questions, though, as much as it is to keep the audience asking, and considering them. The Lifespan of a Fact is sure to provoke a great deal of thought and discussion, and I think that’s the point.

Brian Slaten, Perri Gaffney, Griffin Osborne
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting The Lifespan of a Fact until November 10, 2019

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The Who’s Tommy
Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend, Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff
Additional Music and Lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon
Directed by Justin Been
Choreographed by Mike Hodges
Stray Dog Theatre
October 11, 2019

Cast of The Who’s Tommy
Photo by Dan Donovan
Stray Dog Theatre

For its latest production, Stray Dog Theatre is bringing back a show they first staged 8 years ago. Although I didn’t see that production, I’ve heard some glowing comments about it, so I’m not entirely surprised they would want to produce it again. Now, the company has restaged The Who’s Tommy with a new look and concept, and an excellent cast, particularly in terms of the three performers playing the title role at different ages.

Legendary British rock group The Who first produced their rock opera Tommy as a concept album in 1969. It has since been adapted into a trippy movie directed by Ken Russell in 1975, and later into a Tony-winning Broadway musical. Each version has been altered in various ways from the original album, and I hadn’t seen the stage show before this latest production from SDT, although I had seen the film roughly 30 years ago. What I remember most is the iconic rock score, featuring hits like “Pinball Wizard”, and much of that score is featured here. The story focuses on the life of Tommy Walker (played from young adulthood by Kevin Corpuz), who is born in England in the early years of World War II and suffers a traumatic incident involving his parents (Kelly Howe, Phil Leveling) and his mother’s lover (Jordan Wolk) when he is four years old (played by Alora Marguerite Walsby). As a result, Tommy loses the ability to see, speak, and hear, and grows up experiencing the world using his other senses and emotions. He’s further abused and bullied by other relatives, including his creepy, alcoholic Uncle Ernie (Cory Frank) and his opportunistic Cousin Kevin (Tristan Davis), and taken by his parents to various doctors and others offering “cures” for Tommy (played at age 10 by Leo Taghert). Eventually, Tommy is introduced to pinball by his cousin, and he displays a surprising and remarkable talent for the game, causing a sensation and attracting fans and followers. He then becomes something of a cult figure for a lot of his fans, and he has to figure out what to do about that and come to terms with his own past, present, and future.

The entire technical side of this production is stunning, especially in the visuals. This production is given a unique design that gives it more of a futuristic look rather than the 1940s–1960s time frame would suggest. This look goes especially well with the rock music score and overall mysterious tone of the piece. There’s a fluorescent neon look to Eileen Engel’s costumes that gives them a striking appearance and works well with Josh Smith’s concert-stage like multilevel set, Justin Been’s dazzling kaleidoscopic projections, and Tyler Duenow’s dynamic lighting. The driving score is played with style by the excellent band led by music director Jennifer Buchheit, with particular kudos going to guitar players Adam Rugo and John J. Reitano, who give the music much of its power. The only occasional drawback to the sheer volume of everything is that sometimes the words to the songs can be lost under the music, especially in the ensemble numbers, and with a show like this that is mostly sung-through with very little spoken dialogue, it’s especially essential to be able to hear the lyrics.

The casting is especially strong here, led by the three performers who play Tommy as he grows up. Corpuz, as the adult Tommy and “guiding voice” for his younger versions, gives a commanding performance, with strong stage presence and a powerful voice that fits the score well. The younger Tommys are just as good, too, from Walsby’s mostly silent performance and very credible reactions to Taghert’s journey as the youthful Tommy goes through a series of traumatic encounters and finally finds his talent. All three of these actors are the heart of this show, and much of the dramatic weight rests on them. There are also strong showings from Howe and Leveling as Tommy’s parents, Frank as the smarmy Uncle Ernie, Davis in a particularly well-sung turn as Cousin Kevin, Engel as a determined young fan of Tommy’s named Sally Simpson, and Jeffrey M. Wright in several roles. The ensemble is also strong all around, vocally and in demonstrating Mike Hodges’ energetic choreography.

The Who’s Tommy has something of a rock concert feel to it, as is fitting with the show’s origins. Still, there is a compelling story here, told by a bold, bright, futuristic-looking production led by a particularly strong trio of title performers. It’s another memorable musical from Stray Dog Theatre.

Cast of The Who’s Tommy
Photo by Dan Donovan
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting The Who’s Tommy at Tower Grove Abbey until October 26, 2019

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Brighton Beach Memoirs
by Neil Simon
Directed by Alan Knoll
New Jewish Theatre
October 10, 2019

Jane Paradise, Jacob Flekier, Laurie McConnell
Photo by Greg Lazerwitz
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is starting a new season with a celebrated work by one of America’s most prolific playwrights, Neil Simon. The first in Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy”, Brighton Beach Memoirs is a semi-autobiographical tale that veers swiftly between comedy and drama at times, but ultimately it’s a poignant and nostalgic coming-of-age story, even if it is dated in places. Especially, this production features a strong cast that makes the most of the comedic and dramatic elements of the story.

The story is set in 1937 in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn, New York, and narrated by Simon’s teenage avatar Eugene Morris Jerome (Jacob Flekier). Eugene is an aspiring writer, and this story is part of his “secret” memoir. In addition to his writing ambitions, Eugene is also interested in baseball (particularly the New York Yankees), looks up to his older brother Stanley (Spencer Kruse), and harbors an increasingly intense crush on his older cousin Nora (Summer Baer), who along with her younger sister Laurie (Lydia Mae Foss) and their widowed mother, Blanche (Laurie McConnell) has been living with Eugene’s family. Eugene’s mother Kate (Jane Paradise) is concerned about the well–being of all of her family, including hardworking husband Jack (Chuck Brinkley), her sons, and her younger sister Blanche and her daughters. It’s the Great Depression in America, and the threat of war is looming in Europe, and the family members have their own hopes, goals, and fears, as Eugene deals with puberty and his future goals, Stanley deals with a moral dilemma at his job, Jack deals with financial struggles and the concerns of taking care of a family, as does Kate. There are family conflicts between the lonely Blanche and her aspiring dancer daughter, Nora; between Kate and Blanche who have old issues to settle; between Stanley and his parents, and the expectations set on him by his family; and more. Eugene is the central figure and the narrator, but the primary conflicts are mostly within the rest of the family, as the hardships of the world and expectations and conventions of society are reflected in the conflicts and hardships of the family. It’s an insightful, witty script for the most part, with some fairly intense drama that is built up well, but there are some moments that can come across as jarring for a 2019 audience, especially in the expressed attitudes of Stanley and Eugene toward girls and, particularly, Nora. Still, for the most part this is a poignant and thoughtful comedy/drama, with a hopeful bent toward the end even despite the continuing tensions in the wider world. It’s been described by Simon (as noted in the director’s message in the program) as somewhat of an idealization of his childhood and his family, but nonetheless these characters seem believably real, especially as portrayed by the excellent cast in this production.

As for that cast, each cast member seems especially well-chosen for this production. As Eugene, Flekier is full of energy and enthusiasm, portraying the teenager’s adolescent angst and occasional cluelessness with admirable clarity. There are also fine performances from Kruse as the conflicted Stanley, Baer as the determined Nora, and Foss as the occasionally snarky young Laurie. The adult characters are especially well-played here, as well, with truly remarkable performances from Paradise and McConnell as the contrasting sisters Kate and Blanche, with McConnell especially bringing out a lot of the heartwrenching poignancy of her story. These two are especially believable as siblings, and their scenes together are a highlight of the production. Paradise also has credible chemistry with the also excellent Brinkley as the world-weary, well-meaning Jack. Brinkley’s presence as the strong-but-fair father figure is readily apparent in all his interactions here, especially with his sons. It’s a strong ensemble, representing a believably imperfect but generally loving family unit, reacting to each other and to their times in sometimes humorous, occasionally heartrending ways.

As is usual for NJT, the physical production is top-notch, with a terrific, painstakingly detailed two-level set by Margery and Peter Spack that evokes the era ideally. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes also fit the period and characters well. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Michael Sullivan, and impressive sound design by Zoe Sullivan, effectively bringing the audience along for the story and into 1930s Brooklyn.

Brighton Beach Memoirs is a well-known show that I hadn’t managed to see before this production, and I’m glad that New Jewish Theatre has given me my “introduction” to this piece on stage. It’s an impressively cast, well-realized production that reflects Simon’s witty and occasionally intense script especially well. I’m finding myself hoping NJT will stage the other two plays in the “Eugene Trilogy” in future seasons, with as much of the same cast as they are able to retain. This is a strong start to a new season for New Jewish Theatre.

Jacob Flekier
Photo by Greg Lazerwitz
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until October 27, 2019

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The Agitators
by Mat Smart
Directed by Lisa Tejero
Upstream Theater
October 4, 2019

Jerome Samuel Davis, Erin Kelley
Photo by ProPhotoSTL.com
Upstream Theater

For me, The Agitators at Upstream Theater is an educational experience as well as a theatrical one, and I would imagine the same would be true for many others in the audience. Following the true but not generally highlighted friendship of two well-known and important historical figures, this production also serves as an ideal showcase for its excellent actors. Its also notable for a memorable musical soundtrack and strong production values.

A lot of audience members will (or should be) familiar with prominent 19th Century activists Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. I had read a fair amount about both before, but I wasn’t aware that the two shared a close friendship that lasted for decades. This play focuses on that friendship, and on both central figures’ lives in devotion to their causes, the abolition of slavery and equal rights (including voting rights) for African-Americans and for women. The story spans the decades, starting in the 1840s when Douglass (Jerome Samuel Davis) and Anthony (Erin Kelley) first meet and form a friendship, through the years before and after the Civil War, to the effort to pass the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, and in the continuing fight for women’s sufferage. The two are portrayed as affectionate friends and allies, but also strong personalities who occasionally clash in pursuit of their causes, as their focuses and approaches do not always align. It’s a fascinating portrayal of the struggles that activists can face, and the temptations to compromise some goals in favor of others. It also shows both characters challenging one another at various times, putting strains on their life-enduring friendship. It’s an in-depth look at these two and at a particularly tumultuous time in American history.

The casting is ideal here, with both performers giving terrific performances and working together especially well, showing an incredible bond between their characters. The strong presence and historical importance of both Douglass and Anthony is well-embodied by Davis and Kelley, as is their humanity, as well as the passage of time and aging of the two central figures over the years and decades. It’s a compelling portrayal from both, and the relationship forms the foundation of the drama. There’s also a strong musical soundtrack provided by Syrhea Conaway that is essentially a character in itself, lending much poignancy to the production.

The set, by Patrick Huber, is versatile and evocative, consisting of a wooden stage area and several blocks that are moved around by stagehands as needed, backed by excellent projections. The costumes by Michele Friedman Siler also add to the sense of time, place, and character. There’s also strong atmospheric lighting by Huber and excellent sound by Kareem Deanes. All of these elements, as well as the props by Jenny Smith and wigs by The Wig Associates, work together to make for an impressively credible production.

The Agitators is a compelling drama, with its important historical characters–and the top-notch performers portraying them–at front and center. It’s educational and enlightening, highlighting important historic events as well an timeless themes of equality and justice. It’s an impressive season opener for Upstream Theater.

Jerome Samuel Davis, Erin Kelley
Photo by ProPhotoSTL.com
Upstream Theater

Upstream Theater is presenting The Agitators at the Kranzberg Arts Center until October 13, 2019

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Hello, Dolly!
Book by Michael Stewart, Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Choreographed by Warren Carlyle
The Fox Theatre
October 1, 2019

Cast of Hello, Dolly!
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Hello, Dolly! National Tour

I’ve seen Hello Dolly! a few times now, at various levels from dinner theatre to regional theatre, as well as the movie. Now, the Fox is presenting the tour based on the recent Broadway revival. My first reaction upon seeing this new production is “it’s Hello, Dolly!” What I mean is that it’s basically what you would expect. There are no reinventions or re-imaginings here. In fact, this one seems to be trying to preserve the spirit of the original Broadway production, and original director, choreographer Gower Champion is even listed in the credits. What is somewhat different about this production is that the emphasis seems to be on the lead performer more than ever, which makes sense since it was originally designed as a vehicle for Bette Midler. Here, with the role being taken by Broadway veteran Carolee Carmello, that starry sheen is as evident as ever, and the title character is certainly the star of the show.

The story is the same familiar tale–of matchmaker and all-around professional meddler Dolly Gallagher Levi (Carmello), who after years of making matches for other people, has decided that she’s tired of being a widow and wants to set up a match for herself. The object of her scheme is curmudgeonly Yonkers-based “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (John Bolton), who thinks he’s being paired with widowed hat shop owner Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming), but he doesn’t know Dolly has other plans. This show also has an especially strong “B” plot that, for me, often upstages the “A” plot–that focusing on Horace’s sheltered and overworked chief clerk Cornelius Hackl (Daniel Beeman), who along with young assistant Barnaby Tucker (Sean Burns) takes advantage of the boss’s absence to take an adventurous day trip to New York City, eventually crossing paths with Irene and her young assistant, Minnie Fay (Chelsea Cree Groen). There are some other subplots as well, that all eventually get tied together, with memorable characters and some increasingly hilarious situations, all while Dolly tries to reconcile her future plans with her past, while manipulating situations to her advantage.

Of course, this show, being named after its main character, needs to have a stand-out star in the role, and more than any other stage production I’ve seen, this one has that. I’ve seen some excellent performers as Dolly, but this whole production is essentially Carmello being backed by everyone else. That’s not to disparage the rest of the cast–everyone is excellent, with Bolton a fine, cantankerous Horace, and particular standout performances from Burns as an eager, amiably and athletically dancing Barnaby, Groen as the outspoken Minnie Fay, and a fun, expressive turn by Laura Sky Herman as Horace’s nervous niece, Ermengarde. Beeman and Leaming also show fine chemistry as Cornelius and Irene. There’s also a great, energetic ensemble filling out splashy, dazzling production numbers like “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and Before the Parade Passes By”. Still, the main focus is on Carmello, as it should be because she’s terrific. She’s got everything anyone would want in a Dolly, and more, with a great voice, the big personality to fill out the stage even when she’s the only one on it, especially impressive comic timing and physical comedy skills, and an emotional range that brings poignancy to her more serious moments. It’s a tour-de-force performance.

Another standout feature of this show is its dazzling physical production. It’s a great-looking, fresh-from-Broadway stylish presentation, with a stunning, highly detailed set and fantastically colorful costumes, both by Santo Loquasto. There’s also excellent lighting by Natasha Katz and sound by Scott Lehrer. The production is also accompanied by a delightful orchestra led by Ben Whitely, making the classic score sound great.

The only major drawback to reviewing this production is that Carolee Carmello has joined the show so recently that there aren’t any production photos of her yet. Still, she’s the reason to see this show. It’s a fun, energetic production, with a good cast, but Carmello is the star, filling this great, classic role with style.

Cast of Hello, Dolly!
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Hello, Dolly! National Tour

The North American tour of Hello Dolly! is being presented at the Fox Theatre until October 13, 2019

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