As Hello Dolly! continues its 2013-2014 tour, I had the chance to see it in Toledo at the Stranahan Theater today – it has already played in Detroit last week. And the news is good. The production is solid, and the cast excellent. Sally Struthers sparkles as Dolly Levi (a role, incidentally, that she has been playing in different productions for YEARS, not unique to this tour).
Hello Dolly! has always been a show one either loves or hates. Its story is a bit puzzling no matter how well its done, and the secondary storyline spends far too much time in the spotlight — and the same goes for this production.
Jeffrey B. Moss directs with a quick pace (most of the time) although some of the more talky scenes bog down. Bob Richard provides clean, basic choreography (with strong ballet lines, especially during the “Dancing” sequence) and when it works, it works very well. Some dance sequences have been cut for this production. What is missing is Gower Champion’s flare for making everything larger than life and his iconic movements in some sequences. Entirely re-imagined here, Richard’s are not as good as the originals.
Costume design is excellent throughout (bordering on My Fair Lady-ish at times) by Vincent Scassellati. The curiously uncredited set design (Randel Wright is considered the “scenic coordinator”) points to a tour set that has been assembled from other productions designs. Charlie Morrison has created fine lighting effects (his lighting for the sequined Manhattan backdrop at the end of Act I is particularly effective).
When the stage magic it is at its best, its stunning here — musical theater magic occurs multiple times during the production — the Hallmark-card-like train that enters and exits the Yonkers station for example — and Dolly’s descent down the stairs at Harmonia Gardens. Others are a bit off — the too-sparse set for Irene Molloy’s hat shop and the non-existant set for several of the dance sequences.
Speaking of Irene Malloy, what a find Lauren Blackman is! Her clear, strong voice shines throughout her multiple numbers. John O’Creagh is a likable Horace Vandergelder, and he and Struthers shine in their scenes together. Garett Hawe continues his conquest of strong comic dance roles (having already conquered Newsies and Mary Poppins) as Barnaby Tucker (one of the strongest portrayals of this part I have seen on stage), and Matt Wolfe (a superb singer/dancer/actor) is overdirected and over-stylized, but won me over by the time the show reached “It Only Takes a Moment”.
And then there is Sally Struthers — her portrayal of Dolly Levi is warm, friendly, and funny. She’s charismatic and her vocals are in fine form — she is far stronger as a vocalist than Carol Channing ever was. Her “So Long Dearie” is a marvel — when comedy, heart, and musicality all come together to create another magical stage moment.
The audience was on its feet as the show reached its final sequence — and deservedly so — its a topnotch cast from top to bottom, and they bring life and energy to this now 50-year old musical (can you believe it???). Hello Dolly! shows its age more than once in the show — even in the mid-60’s it was far from “edgy” and the term “corny” doesn’t fully capture the schlock in the script — but its a golden-age of musicals chestnut, and its well done here. Hello Dolly, indeed…its a show that has gone away too long….and I’m glad she’s back where she belongs.
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