Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hello Dolly

HELLO DOLLY, a love affair between Terri Kent and the audience

It was obvious from the pre-performance speech by the iridescent Maryann Black, to the shouting cheer for Terri Kent’s entrance on stage as Dolly Levi, to the rousing curtain call, that the open night audience was there to pay tribute to the long time Artistic Director of the Porthouse theatre. No matter her near laryngitis from extensive rehearsals, the throng loved her.

Kent, returning to the stage after a thirteen year hiatus, portrayed Dolly Gallagher Levi, as the scheming, irascible matchmaker. The role is the signature piece of the ageless Carol Channing and was also a character made famous by Barbara Streisand in the film version of the show.

HELLO DOLLY!, which has lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, is based on Thornton Wilder's THE MERCHANT OF YONKERS, which Wilder revised and retitled THE MATCHMAKER.

The musical was first produced in 1964, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was also made into a 1969 film that was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

Interestingly, though most think of Carol Channing as Dolly Levi, the role was originally written for Ethel Merman, who decided not to do the part. Dolly was offered to Mary Martin, who also declined. Eventually, Channing was hired and made the role not only hers for life, but made the show an international hit.

The story centers on a meddlesome widow who, out of need for money, and her natural exuberance for controlling others and searching for a satisfying life, turns matchmaker, striving to bring romance to others as well as herself.

The memorable score includes such hits as It Takes a Woman, Put on Your Sunday Clothes, Before the Parade Passes By, Elegance, It Only Takes a Moment and the title song, Hello Dolly.
Porthouse’s production, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, is enjoyable, with many highs and some okays.

John Crawford’s choreography is creative, though maybe a stretch for some of his dancers, some of whom had difficulty with the lifts and timing. Jonathan Swoboda’s musical directing is on key, staying under the spoken and sung words, thus not obliterating the words. Most of the vocal blendings were good.

Scenic Designer Nolan O’Dell did the cast a disservice by creating a set that was too far downstage, giving little room to move freely and forcing dancers and actors to continually watch carefully as they walked up and down platforms, thus causing the performers to break concentration while trying to avoid tripping. His choice of bland paint colors for this vivid show is also questionable.

Judith’s costumes were era correct. But, watching the actors sweating profusely in the heavy costumes, on the very hot night, was a little uncomfortable.

Kent was delightful in her portrayal of Dolly. Chuck Richie, as Horace Vandergelder, the focus of Dolly’s husband interest, was excellent in the role. He displayed just enough huff and puff and underbelly vulnerability.

Eric van Baars did what he does best, mugging and having one heck of a good time as Cornelius Hackl, the 33-year old (oh, come now!) boyish clerk in Vandergelder’s store. Jason Leupold was delightful as Barnaby, Cornelius’s sidekick. Jessica Cope was charming as Irene Molloy, Vandergelder’s intended who winds up with Cornelius. Rebecca Wolfe was adorable as Minnie Fay, Irene’s shop assistant.

Highlight numbers included: Dancing, Hello Dolly, It Only Takes a Moment and Put on Your Sunday Clothes.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: The sold out opening night audience got what they came for—cheering the return to the stage of the charming Terri Kent, and, incidentally, seeing a nice evening of musical theatre!