‘Hello, Dolly!’ missing the old-fashioned razzle-dazzle that the musical demands
For all it strengths, including a fine cast, the production at Marriott Theatre hampered by in-the-round staging.
How do you solve a problem like Dolly Levi?
If you’re half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder of Yonkers, New York, the answer is: You don’t. Dolly solves you. She’s a schemer, a chaotician, a socialite and a BS artist par excellence, an ardent redistributionist, a frankly miraculous dance instructor, and — by her own gleeful admission — a world-class meddler. When she sets her sights on marrying grumpy old Vandergelder (albeit with the stated intent of taking his half-a-millionaire fortune and spreading it around), it takes him nearly two and a half hours, a dozen or so songs and enough hijinks to fill a stuffed whale to realize just how lucky he is. What a wonderful “problem” to have.
But for anyone mounting a production of “Hello Dolly!”, the Dolly problem is a bit more real: Do you have someone who can pull off the part? (Cue “Funny Girl” klaxons.) It’s a role that, from the beginning, has been designed for larger-than-life divas. From Carol Channing and Barbra Streisand to Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters, Dolly has worked best when housing an outsized personality. What to do then when there is no such personality to be had? What is Dolly when she’s just more of a down-to-earth (if still thoroughly fabulous) human being?
When: Through Oct. 16
Where: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire
Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, with one intermission
That’s the question that hangs in the air throughout director Denis Jones’ “Hello Dolly!” at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.
Actress Heidi Kettenring brings a veteran performer’s comedic chops and a lovely, strong singing voice to the show’s titular role, but her Dolly is undeniably a slighter presence. While Dolly exerts her usual push and pull on Vandergelder (David C. Girolmo) and Co., she doesn’t exert the same kind of centrifugal influence on the audience. Kettenring’s lively, intimate performance rings especially true in the musical’s few moments of real melancholy — but it also emphasizes how, even with a solid, well-acted and well-sung performance at its center in place of a bonafide star turn, “Hello Dolly!” just sort of falls flat.
That flatness isn’t for lack of trying. The entire cast is game, and there’s fun to be had as Vandergelder’s two clerks, Cornelius Hackl (Alex Goodrich) and Barnaby Tucker (Spencer Davis Milford), set off from boring old Yonkers for a secret day of fun in New York City. The two, of course, immediately run into their boss, and tomfoolery abounds.
Under Dolly’s watchful eye, Cornelius falls madly, and mutually, in love with Vandergelder’s ex-fiancee-to-be, Irene (a really stupendous Rebecca Hurd); the same goes for Barnaby and Irene’s excitable shop assistant Minnie Fay (Amanda Walker).
Meanwhile, Dolly is also working on behalf of Vandergelder’s niece Ermengarde (Emily Ann Brooks) and her intended, Ambrose Kemper (Michael Turrentine), in a scheme for Vandergelder’s approval that somehow finds the young lovers entering a polka contest at the Harmonia Gardens, New York’s fanciest restaurant.
The cast, led by Kettenring, gleefully taps into the show’s inherent silliness. A relatively minor song, “Motherhood,” becomes a madcap whirligig of action and delightful faux-patriotic gobbledygook. It really hits the spot even when the traditional showstoppers like the title song or “When the Parade Passes By” breeze by pleasantly but not very memorably.
One element working against the show is its staging, which tries to make the best of Marriott’s in-the-round space with disappointing results. The immediacy and dynamism that comes with the setup is lost on a show that’s so stodgy and old-fashioned. “Hello, Dolly!” seems to demand a proscenium — preferably a proscenium stuffed with big fancy sets.
Jones’ minimalist set dressing (set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec) leaves his performers ample room to move but does little to set the mood. This was exacerbated by technical difficulties on the night this reviewer attended. Concerns for actor safety meant that hydraulic platforms, which added levels (and presumably some oomph), to the staging were not used.
Jones’ choreography fares better and delivers some moments of inspired no-frills innovation. The dancing waiters are legitimately thrilling — and, when they welcome Dolly back into the fold, there is a real pathos to it.
Dolly Levi is not an overpowering force of nature. She’s simply their dear, beloved friend who’s been gone too long. And they’re glad she’s back. For tonight, at least, their Dolly Levi problem is solved.