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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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Hello, Dolly!
Book by Michael Stewart
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Rob Ruggiero
Choreographed by Ralph Perkins
The Muny
August 11, 2014

Beth Leavel (center) and Ensemble Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Beth Leavel (center) and Ensemble
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

Hello Dolly! and the Muny are a match made in Theatre Heaven. As is fitting for a show about a matchmaker, the two parties in this particular relationship are most ideally suited. Hello Dolly! when staged well, is a big, colorful, flashy show with lots of energy and heart, and the Muny has built its reputation around just this type of show.  After an especially impressive season that started with a wonderful production of a newer show, Billy Elliot, the Muny is closing out their 2014 schedule with this big, brassy charmer of a Broadway classic, scaled just right to fit the colossal stage and delight the eyes, ears and hearts  of the vast Muny audience.

I’ve seen quite a few productions of this show over the years, including the last (also excellent) Muny production in 2007 that featured a more subdued portrayal of the title character. This time, though, Dolly Gallagher Levi, as played by Beth Leavel, is back to her larger-than-life ways, and is the real center of this production.  Leavel’s Dolly is such a presence that even when she’s off stage, her influence is obvious. With a big personality, a strong voice and lots of quirky style, Leavel commands the stage.  She is well-matched with John O’Hurley as the curmudgeonly half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, on whom the widowed Dolly sets her sights. Telling the story of Dolly’s various matchmaking efforts and their effects on Horace and those around him, this production has all the elements this show requires and then some, with big, flashy production numbers, strong choreography by Ralph Perkins, colorful period-specific costumes by Amy Clark, and a simple but striking set designed by Michael Schweikart that features some wonderfully detailed backdrops.  It’s a valentine to late 19th Century New York, with infectious energy and memorable production numbers from the iconic title song to the big, stage-filling “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, and more.

In addition to the ideal casting of Leavel and O’Hurley, the supporting players also turn in excellent work. Muny veteran Rob McClure, so memorable as Gomez in The Addams Family and Bert in Mary Poppins, is in fine form here as Horace’s sheltered chief clerk Cornelius Hackl, who is eager to get at least one small break from his humdrum Yonkers existence and experience adventure in the big city. McClure is able to be charming, bumbling, a nimble dancer, and a hopeless romantic all at once, with great renditions of the rousing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and the heartwarming “It Only Takes a Moment”.  He’s paired well with Mamie Parris as the widowed hatmaker Irene Molloy, who displays strong chemistry with McClure and an impressive voice on her showcase song, “Ribbons Down My Back”.  Jay Armstrong Johnson as the naive assistant clerk Barnaby Tucker, and Eloise Kropp as Irene’s shop assistant Minnie Fay deliver memorable comic performances, as well, as do Daniel Berryman as artist and would-be dancer Ambrose Kemper and Berklea Going as the object of his affection, Horace’s weepy neice, Ermengarde.  This production can also boast of a very impressive ensemble, especially the men who get to show off their athletic dancing skills in the wildly energetic “Waiters’ Gallop” number.

Although there were a few issues with the sound on opening night, as well as one noticeable (but well-covered) line flub, this production is otherwise staged with remarkable precision and timing.  The famous staircase scene is timed just right, and Leavel is adept at interacting with both the ensemble and the audience, generating waves of enthusiastic applause.  The Act One ending “Before the Parade Passes By” also puts the giant Muny stage to excellent use, featuring a memorable appearance by the O”Fallon Township High School marching band.  And speaking of bands, the Muny’s own wonderful orchestra–conducted by Musical Director James Moore–is in top form here as well, keeping up the energy and pacing of this classic Jerry Herman score.

This rendition  of Hello Dolly! is the latest piece of evidence that the Muny–under the leadership of Executive Producer Mike Isaacson–is back on form as befits its illustrious reputation.  This has been another entertaining season, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s on offer next summer.  Echoing this show’s title song, I’ll say another enthusiastic hello to the new, improved Muny–it’s nice to have it back where it belongs, at the top of its game. Long may this revitalized tradition continue!

Eloise Kropp, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Mamie Parris, Rob McClure Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Eloise Kropp, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Mamie Parris, Rob McClure
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

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Hello, Dolly!

Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, Book by Michael Stewart

based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder

Directed by Eric Schaeffer

Choreographed by Karma Camp

Co-Produced by Ford’s Theatre Society and Signature Theatre

Ford’s Theatre, Washington, DC

March 15th, 2013

fordstheatre

I recently had the opportunity to return to my old stomping grounds, the Washington DC area, on a family trip.  Despite having grown up there and having participated in countless school field trips to various Nation’s Capital attractions, I had never managed to make it to the historic Ford’s Theatre until this latest trip.  Most famous for its connection to Abraham Lincoln, the theatre is now both a historical attraction (with an excellent museum) and a working theatre hosting several productions each year.

This is a smaller production of Hello Dolly! than usual.  The show has been known for elaborate, colorful costumes, a large cast and lots of spectacle, such as the title number with Dolly descending a grand staircase accompanied by a large chorus of waiters. The last time I saw this show was in 2007 at the Muny, a venue which seems the very definition of “larger than life”, to the point where in comparison, a production like this might be akin to producing the show in someone’s basement.  Still, it’s a glorious “basement” and the ideal setting for this slightly re-imagined production. In this version, the cast is smaller, the spectacle is brought down and the costumes, while still beautifully made, are more muted.  The emphasis here is more on character than spectacle, and for the most part, it works.

This is the classic story of widowed matchmaker and professional meddler Dolly Gallagher Levi (Nancy Opel), who aims to arrange a marriage for Yonkers “half-millionaire”, the curmudgeonly Horace Vandergelder (Edward Gero) without letting him know that her intended bride for him is herself.  Dolly also has a few other schemes up her sleeve, involving several people in Horace’s circle, including his chief clerk Cornelius Hackl (Gregory Maheu) and young assistant Barnaby Tucker (Zachary Collona), who go on an adventure of their own involving widowed hatshop owner Irene Molloy (Tracy Lynn Olivera) and her young employee Minnie Faye (Lauren Williams).  All of these characters spend an eventful day in New York City, where Dolly’s influence is shown to be far-reaching, and where the various characters pursue their dreams and get more than they bargained for in various ways.

Opel is a wistful, engaging Dolly.  In contrast to previous interpretations that have emphasized the character’s hyper-competence, Opel brings the character’s sense of regret to the forefront. She has excellent chemistry with Edward Gero as Horace and has handles most of her numbers very well. Her highlights musically are the opening sequence (“I Put My Hand In”), “Motherhood”, the title song and “So Long, Dearie”, which is her tour-de-force as far as I’m concerned.  It was such a strong moment for her, and Gero’s reactions to her were perfectly appropriate.  All of these numbers that have her interacting with other characters, and the chemistry is strong.  Gero is a humanized Horace—stubborn and set in his ways, but convincingly changing throughout the show and warming up to Dolly.  Together, Opel and Gero make their growing relationship both engaging and believable.

As celebrated as the character of Dolly is,  my favorite story line in this show has always been the B-plot, with Horace and Barnaby going out on the town with Irene Malloy and Minnie Fay, and all the players do well here.  Maheu is an earnest, charming Cornelius and his chemistry with Olivera’s Irene  is striking, particularly in what is probably the best staging of “It Only Takes a Moment” I’ve ever seen.  Olivera is in very strong voice as Irene, delivering an excellent rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back”. Collona brings an amiable energy and strong dancing to the role of Barnaby, and Williams  turns in an engagingly funny performance as Minnie Faye.  These four performers make the most of their scenes together, and numbers like the hilarious “Motherhood” and  the charming “Elegance”are delightful highlights of the show, also with their inventive staging and well-executed choreography.  This show has a very strong cast all around, as well, and a delightful ensemble, particularly in regard to dancing.

I liked Adam Koch’s simple but effective train station set, in muted colors to set the mood of the times, and with wheeled luggage racks that are reused as set pieces throughout. The costumes by Wade Laboissonniere are extremely well-done as well.  The colors may not be eye-poppingly bright as in some other productions of this show, but all of the costumes are exquisitely made with rich fabrics and patterns and very much evocative of the era.   I also loved the strong choreography, most notably in the energetic “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and in the title song, which isn’t as flashy as previous productions, but is extremely well-staged and performed with a lot of style and class by Opel and the ensemble of four waiters.

I was glad to be able to witness this remarkable joint production by the Ford’s Theatre Society and the DC area’s much-acclaimed Signature Theatre, and the production is well-realized and directed by Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer.  It’s a different Dolly than audiences may be expecting, but the experiment in bringing this show down to scale pays off in highlighting the atmosphere of the 1890’s and the relationships between the characters. This production is a treat for the eyes, ears, and heart, and well worth checking out before it closes in May.

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