Saturday, June 13, 2009

A review of Hello Dolly!

by Monica Reida

City Circle - City Circle Acting Company of Coralville's flawed but thoroughly enjoyable production of Hello, Dolly! is bigger than life, just like the title character.

Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman's musical, based off of Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker, tells the story of Mrs. Dolly Levi (Patti McTaggart) who “arranges things like furniture, daffodils and lives.” A widow, she plays matchmaker, dance teacher and any other role she has on a business card. The people of Yonkers and New York City adore her. And once can't blame them with McTaggart's portrayal of a woman who schemes and gossips but is utterly charming.

But she seems lonely. All of the extravagant hats in the world can't bring her company. She wants to marry Horace Vandergelder (Christopher Carpenter), a grumpy widower who owns the feed shop and views everyone as a fool. But Vandergelder wants to marry Irene Molloy (Kate C. Thompson) of New York City. So he, Dolly, his hysterical niece Ermengarde (Collette Forcier) and her love interest, Ambrose Kemper (Brian Martin) decide to head to New York. Also off to New York are Horace's store clerks Cornelius Kackl (Kehry Amson Lane) and Barnaby Tucker (Adam Kopfman) and they're looking for adventure, girls to kiss and a stuffed whale. While in New York, the two clerks meet Malloy, who runs a shop for ladies' hats, and Minnie Fay (Sami Wendell), Malloy's shop assistant.

During the opening night performance, the show had a few stumbling blocks. The opening number, Call On Dolly, felt a bit weak and McTaggart, who has a great stage presence, had a hard time projecting some of her notes in the lower register in the beginning of the show. During various numbers, the ensemble was lost under the orchestra, and during Put On Your Sunday Clothes, the ensemble was out of tune. While many problems were resolved by halfway through the first act, some problems continued throughout the entire show.

The orchestra was continually out of tune, from the overture, which was sloppy and had several indistinguishable melodies, to the curtain call. Frequently, the spotlights would come on and not be right on the actor they were supposed to be following.

Forcier's character is supposed to be prone to crying, but the portrayal was just annoying with obviously fake crying. Martin also had a flat performance and had a rather forced delivery of some lines.

But the cast and the design elements overcame these major problems, making the show, which is a little longer than two hours, whiz by. The cast's performance of Herman's tuneful, catchy score will have many leaving the Englert Theatre humming the numbers. Director Michael Stokes' interpretation of the show seems like a nostalgic dream. Absurd elements emphasize this feeling of a dream, such as a large dance number at the fancy Harmonia Gardens restaurant that is performed by smiling waiters skillfully dancing Jill Beardsley and Doug Beardsley's complex choreography. Immediately following the scene in the restaurant is a scene in a court room. As everyone waits center stage to defend themselves, Dolly sits at the table with a red tablecloth on it from the previous scene, still eating.

The nostalgic aspect of the production comes from the exquisite, brightly colored gowns and hats that, for the most part, fit the time period. The one costume that did not is Minnie Fay's formal gown, which is made of a glittery fabric that would have not been around during the early twentieth century. During the show, there is a detailed backdrop depicting a street corner. Every column, letter, decorative stonework, is on on the faded piece of fabric, giving it that feel of old America.

McTaggart plays the role of Dolly with an intriguing depth. In moments where she is “speaking” to her dead husband, Ephram, she seems as though she still cares about him. Her performance of the act one finale, Before the Parade Passes By, delivers a heartbreaking show stopper as she sings with this tone of determination and confidence. And when she enters the Harmonia Gardens restaurant in a large, red feathered headpiece and a jeweled-looking red gown, she makes a big but elegant entrance.

Horace is a character that, as written, doesn't have a lot of depth. Carpenter plays the character as stubborn and hard, which is really all that he can do. But his performance of the number “It Takes a Woman, a song about how a woman should clean and do chores, is amusing and delightful due to his voice.

Lane and Kopfman could be accused of stealing the show, but that wouldn't be a bad thing. Kopfman shows wide-eyed enthusiasm for going to New York, mainly for seeing the stuffed whale, in his voice and on his face that makes us believe that he is a 17-year-old that has never left Yonkers. The two are a fantastic comic duo, particularly in a scene where they are hiding from Horace under tables and in closets in Malloy's shop, and their performance of Put On Your Sunday Clothes is filled with so much excitement and energy that it is one of the highlights of the production. Every time they are on stage, your attention is turned to them.

Lane is sweet and possesses a magnificent voice. His performance of It Only Takes a Moment is so moving that we, the audience, can understand why Rudolph (Cary Beatty), the head waiter, and the judge (Richard Paulus) are crying afterward. His entire performance is authentic and subtle, as he shows love-at-first-sight with his facial expressions, which made me hopeful for the potential of him winning Irene Malloy's heart.

Both Thompson and Wendell are a joy that balance each other out. Thompson's Irene is cool and calm while Wendell's Minnie Fay is giddy and nervous. Both have great singing voices, particularly Thompson who has a solo number, Ribbons Down My Back, that showcases it very well. Her performance shines during a simple dance with a hat that is enchanting with the wonder she displays.

The joy of Stokes' production is that it provides an escape. Hello, Dolly! is one of those shows where everyone has a happy ending: Dolly, Cornelius, Horace, the audience, Irene, Minnie Fay, Ambrose and Ermengarde. Even Barnaby, who gets his own stuffed whale.

Monica Reida has acted in five plays in Waterloo, worked on numerous productions in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, directed a staged reading, and has been revising and writing her first play, Life After Death, for the past two years. She will be attending DePaul University in the fall to pursue her B.F.A. in theatre arts and journalism. She blogs at

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