Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Hello, Dolly!"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark

"Hello, Dolly!"

Book by Michael Stewart
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman

Book by Michael Stewart
Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Robert J. Eagle
Gower Champion's Original Choreography Recreated by Susan M. Chebookjian and George Livengood
Musical Direction by Jeffrey P. Leonard and Julian Liu

Scenic Design by Oliver Smith
Lighting Design by David Wilson
Costume Design by Freddy Wittop

Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi...Joanne Worley *
Ernestina.....................Mary Callanan
Ambrose Kemper.................Matthew Shea
Horse.........Anne Carey & Kristin Wishoski
Horace Vandergelder............Jamie Ross *
Ermengarde...................Kristin Fehlau
Cornelius Hack............l..Scott Willis *
Barnaby Tucker..............Sean McLaughlin
Minnie Fay................Meredith Campbell
Irene Molloy..............Elizabeth Walsh *
Mrs. Rose........................Lynn Shane
Rudolph........................Ben DiScipio
Stanley...........................Jay Carey
Judge.......................R. Glen Michell
Court Clerk......................Eric Sachs


Jason Adams, Craig Beebe, Daniel Berger, Charley Borden, George Bouchard, Leanne Bourgeois, Anne Carey, Rosemarie Chearmonte, Keith Connearney, Sue Carity-Conkey, Jane Corrigan, Amanda Marie Cullen, Jenna Davy, Denise Dean, Jonathan Dearaujo, Jill Defina, Timothy Devaney, Ben Discipio, Alice Lao-Downie, Paul Ebben, Shaun Fillon, Debbie Gamble, Doug Hodge, Michael Hogman, David January, Carly Johanson, David Kehs, Sean Kilbridge, Jeffrey Kwong, George Livengood *, Linda Cottone Lodi, Michael Maria, Ricki Mason, George McCarthy, Martha McMahon, Joanna McNeil, R. Glen Michell, Al Micacchion *, Laura Mosman, William Nagle, Suzanne O.Connor, Bob Pascucci, Margie Quinlan, Karen Richards, Joshua Rubinger, Eric Sachs, Lynn Shane, Reese Snow, Kristy Swett, Lisa Taylor, Allison Waggener, Kristin Wishoski

* indicates members of Actors' Equity Association

" 'Pudding', Cornelius?" " 'Pudding', Barnaby! Hide!"
I cannot say how Joanne Worley playing Dolly Gallagher-Levi opposite Jamie Ross as Horace Vandergelder compares with any of the famous ladies who have strutted through the part --- I never saw "Hello, Dolly!" until today. However, back in the Pre-Cambrian era I did see Joanie Tolentino-Dunton play Dolly in the Kresge Little Theatre under the direction of Joseph Everingham, not in a musical but in Thornton Wilder's original play (retitled from "The Merchant of Yonkers") called "The Matchmaker". In that play Cornelius Hackl, head clerk in Vandergelder's hay and feed store in Yonkers, NY, decides he and his young assistant Barnaby Tucker are going to close the store, go to New York City, eat a restaurant meal, have an adventure, and kiss a girl. Except that young Barnaby worries that when the adventure starts, he might not notice unless Cornelius slips him the magic word. And when their irascible skinflint of a boss actually enters the hat-shop they've tried hiding from him in, the immortal exchange up above occurs. And I mention this only because, in this otherwise interesting musical adaptation, those immortal lines are never spoken.

So I'm going to talk about Gower Champion.

Specifically, Champion's choreography as re-created by Susan M. Chebookjian and George Livengood for this Reagle Players production. There's a lot of emphasis on feet here. Early on, for instance, a lot of steps involve the heel of one extended leg. In early crowd scenes, the bodies remain almost motionless while quick shuffle-steps move them around the stage almost like weightless puppets.

When Scott Willis as Cornelius Hackl is taught the waltz, he first does it in a sort of splay-kneed, wide-stanced squat that exaggerates his tyro's nervous awkwardness. Shortly after, though, he is doing leaps with kick-heels enthusiasm. The whole body is involved of course, but the feet were what I noticed.

In the second act's "Waiters' Gallop" there's a great deal of whizzing on and off and across stage by dozens of green-uniformed young men in black shoes with glare-white spats. Everything is very intricate and energetic, but there are several points at which a corps of waiters with trays of drinks or dishes Spring into the air in unison, knees bent to either side, heels nearly touching, looking for all the world like exhuberant frogs. In these spring-like leaps and dashes across the restaurant set, those spats riveted my attention to everyone's feet.

It's less clear to me why Champion's filling the stage with up to fifty bodies is enough to brings tears to my eyes. That may also have something to do with the swelling, lilting music of Jerry Herman as well as with Director Robert J. Eagle's blocking of these elegantly costumed crowd-scenes. Then too, it probably has to do with the smiles on the faces, and even on the bodies, of these well-rehearsed practitioners of an arcane art who seem eager for the chance to merge themselves into Gower Champion's vision of a musical.

"But aside from all that, Mrs. Lincoln, did you like the play?"

I Loved the play, but the musical they made out of it only made me think of other things, other shows. Joanne Worley probably had to play Carol Channing's Dolly Gallagher-Levi, since so much of the part is so perfectly tailored to only one actress. And Jamie Ross played her willing second-banana in a long and thankless one-note part. Sean McLaughlin as Cornelius Hackl and Elizabeth Walsh as the milliner he falls in love with played parts that were unknown to audiences (who could probably imitate every one of Carol Channing's vocal mannerisms); they had a chance to create their own characters anew --- and they sing beautifully.

Then again, as Worley stepped out onto the walkway built out in front of the orchestra pit to take center and play to the audience, I watched a dozen identically-clad male dancers do her homage, and thought of the number "One" ending "A Chorus Line". I caught the eye of Reese Snow, an actor-singer-dancer I've seen in at least three other shows now, who hopes to earn an Equity Card and go on dancing in New York for the rest of his life. And I bought a raffle-ticket in the act-break from Lisa Taylor, who gives rides to Reese to and from work and whose smile I look for amid that mass of "identical" dancers. And suddenly I'm remembering "42nd Street" and the dream of stepping out on that stage a nobody, but coming back a star.

Scott Willis and Elizabeth Walsh are stars, and already have Equity Cards; they've done Broadway, and National and International tours, but they're here at the Robinson Theatre in Waltham High School with Reese and Lisa. I think they're all there for the same reason Joanne Worley and Jamie Ross and Susan M. Chebookjian and George Livengood and Bob Eagle are there. They all want the chance to make American Musicals live again in the way they were originally intended:

In front people who love them.


"Hello, Dolly!" (till 25 July)
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide