The joint Signature Theatre/Ford’s Theatre mini-version of the classic tart of a musical Hello Dolly! is charming and delightful, if a bit lackluster.
Here, director Eric Schaeffer attempted to tell the story of meddling matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi — one of the stage’s grand comic divas — and the series of amorous slapstick situations which befall those around her, in a reduced revisit fitted to Ford’s smaller space.
Dolly, a widow who brokers marriages and innumerable other transactions in the New York City area at the turn of the 20th Century sets her sights on the Scrooge-like half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, who has hired her to find him a wife. Hijinks ensue involving florid plotting, mistaken identities, misplaced purses, and a climactic brouhaha, all resulting in everyone finding their perfect love-match, a la vintage Broadway.
The scaled-down cast and orchestra may have been the only solution at Ford’s, but the experience suffers for it. The production feels inadequate, most telling in the numbers meant to be grand, and in spite of the performers singing and dancing their hearts out.
The set design is a related disappointment. With a minimal amount of scenic changes — basically every scene is left in an open space in what is originally the train station in the show opener — this musical known for its gaudiness is impertinently drab. And holy cabooses!, few props are used even to distinguish between locales.
Schaeffer also altered the show’s opening. Instead of a grand entrance, we’re quietly, awkwardly allowed to peek in at the pageant as it sloughs off its lassitude. Consequently, the show doesn’t completely shake off the dullness of its opening until the characters gussy up for their trip to the big city in the third song.
The strength of the ensemble goes a ways in assuaging these letdowns. Ensemble players Morgan Cowling, Harris Milgrim, Alex Puette, Jp Qualters, Kyle Vaughn, and Merrill West spin, kick and harmonize beautifully to Karma Camp’s choreography and James Moore’s musical direction in extended song and dance sequences.
In scene after scene, the group’s boundless dynamism and buoyancy shine. They show off their voices in my personal favorite “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” in Act One, and showcase their athleticism in the exhilarating “Waiters’ Gallop” in Act Two. The male ensemble, in particular, adds vibrant warmth to their scenes, noticeably present in the title song as the waiters orbit around and serenade Dolly.
And what of Dolly? The success of this show depends largely on the actress playing the yenta-meddler extraordinaire, and Broadway vet and Tony Award nominee Nancy Opel does well by the role famously inhabited by Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey and Babs Streisand.
Opel’s Dolly— funny, clever and mischievous — is a likable centerpiece from the start. Clad in Wade Laboissonniere’s tasteful Autumn-colored Victorian gowns and decoratively festooned hats, a kind of boho-plumage chic, Opel commands the role. Her Act One closer, “Before the Parade Passes By ” is particularly resonant.
Local favorite Edward Gero isn’t afforded much opportunity to show off his rich baritone in the role of Horace (he’s the lead only for “It Takes A Woman”) but acts the part of the miserly crank with aplomb.
Closes May 18, 2013
511 Tenth Street, NW
Approximately 2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $34 – $90
Mondays thru Sundays
Hello Dolly!’s subplot featuring the hapless Vandergelder clerks Cornelius Hackl (Gregory Maheu) and Barnaby Tucker (Zack Colonna) and their quest to kiss a girl in the city offer the brightest moments, the most winning performances and the cast’s loveliest voices. Maheu is sweetly earnest in his singing and acting and he and Colonna ably display their comic chops here too, to the delight of the audience.
Tracy Lynn Olivera is solid as the millinery matron Irene Molloy, a natural presence with a fine, clear voice and perfect pitch. Her rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back” is the finest sung piece in the show.
Achingly old-fashioned in places, this confection of a musical is not the big, brash Hello Dolly! of old, but it’s warm-hearted and tuneful, retaining the syrupy spirit of the original—fair enough for a painless night at the theater.
Hello Dolly! . Book by Michael Stewart, Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman. Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Choreography by Karma Camp. Music Direction by James Moore. Scenic Design by Adam Koch. Costume Design by Wade Laboissonniere. Lighting Design by Colin K. Bills. Sound Design by David Budries. Orchestrations by Kim Scharnberg. Produced by Signature Theatre and Ford’s Theatre. Reviewed by Roy Maurer.
Lisa Troshinsky . Washington Diplomat
Diane Holcomb Wilshere . AccidentalThespian
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Chuck Concini . Washington Life
Barbara Mackay . Washington Examiner
Joanna Castle Miller . WeLoveDC
Bob Mondello . City Paper
Doug Rule . MetroWeekly
Jeff Walker . BroadwayWorld
Shannon Davies . TheaterMania
Leslie Milk . Washingtonian
Tim Smith . Baltimore Sun
Mark Beachy . MDTheatreGuide
Peter Marks . Washington Post
Amanda Gunther . DCMetroTheaterArts