Review: "Hello Dolly" at Theatre Arlington

Review: "Hello Dolly" at Theatre Arlington

Eric Bird

I saw this musical for the first time on film and was very excited to finally see it on stage. When the curtains opened with the city outline in the background the ensemble immediately caught my attention with their energetic performances. The energy kept up throughout the entire show, resulting in a very enjoyable experience with amazing dancing, incredible vocal skills and the talented designing team that went into this production.

“Hello Dolly” is one of those musical theatre pieces that has been seen and enjoyed by thousands. It is based on the play, “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder. It opened on Broadway in 1964 and won a total of 10 Tony Awards. It has had three Broadway revivals as well as a movie in 1969 staring Barbara Streisand and Walther Matthau and directed/choreographed by Gene Kelly. 

Brandon Mason directed and choreographed this musical comedy. The visual imagery was impressive, with how the dancers interacted with the stage environment and also the other characters. There were a lot of very definite pictures in this production, which I especially enjoyed, such as when Cornelius and Barnaby are taught by Dolly Levi how to dance, then in Act II in the musical number “Elegance”, Cornelius, Barnaby, Irene and Minnie create delightful images from excitement to exhaustion as they travel the long distance from Irene’s Hat Shop to the Harmonious Gardens Restaurant. The choreography was lively and engaging. 

Alex Vorse served as the Musical Director for this production. Vorse had a wealth of amazing vocal talent to work with. Everyone knew what they were performing, creating a good, harmonious melody, which we first have the privilege to hear at the opening of the show and concluding with a strong Finale Ultimo. “Before the Parade Passes By” was another strong musical number where the cast performed admirably and created pleasant music.

Tony Curtis was the technical director and scenic designer for this production. When the curtains open we have the first image of a city outline in the back with the introduction of different elements for the different scenes, including Molloy’s hat shop and Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed store with a cellar, which also served as a separate entrance to the stage. The restaurant of the second act was designed with a grand entrance stairway and two covered private dining areas that are used by the separate parties. The technical elements worked very well, adding more dimension to the performance and enhancing the imagery of the show.

The lighting was designed by Kyle Harris and was very good at illuminating the characters. I especially appreciated the use of blue and red lighting and how this was very effective in highlighting the characters and setting the stage for the emotional aspect of the show. There was a flashing light that was irritating however and detracted from the scenes, but overall the design was well done. 

Bill Eickenloff and Ryan Mansfield were co-designers for the sound. I had no complaints about the sound since the music was at a very comfortable level and the actors were very easy to hear and understand throughout the performance. 

Stefanie Glenn masterfully designed the costumes, fitting in perfectly with the 1890’s time period of the show. Dolly’s costumes were very well done, starting in a travelling suit, then another period-appropriate daytime dress and transitioning to an elaborate red evening dress complete with an extravagant headpiece. The other characters also had costumes that were well suited to them and appropriate to their age and class status, as we see in Vandergelder’s business suit and evening tuxedo compared with Cornelius and Barnaby’s costumes which were less fine. The costuming was fitting with the appropriate dress styles of the 1890’s and added to the reality of the show. 

Cathy Pritchett’s props design were very well utilized and very abundant throughout the performance. The hats in Irene Molloy’s shop were elaborate, fitting in perfectly with the scenes. The instruments used by the band looked realistic, and the parasols fit in perfectly with the choreography. The dishes in the restaurant were also appropriate for the show and helped create an engaging realism. 

Persis Ann Forster masterfully portrayed the matchmaking, meddling, and opportunistic role of Dolly Gallagher Levi. Forster is very comfortable to watch performing onstage and was exceptional at creating a real personable character that immersed me into the storyline of the show. The facial expressions and well timed lines worked excellently with her character. Her incredible singing voice was especially notable in “I Put My Hand In” and “Before the Parade Passes By”. Forster helped bring me into the life of Dolly and enjoy every minute of her performance. 

Steven D. Morris was exceptional in his portrayal of Horace Vandergelder, the widowed, gruff half-a-millionaire proprietor of Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed store in Yonkers, New York. Morris has a very strong presence onstage that was immediately apparent when he performed the song “It Takes a Woman”. His gruff tone and his irritated, unhappy expression were constant throughout. Morris’ has impressive acting skills and created a dynamic, grumpy character that was enjoyable to see onstage.

Wyn Delano was very energetic and comedic in his portrayal of Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s chief clerk who is looking for excitement in New York. Delano is very dynamic in his performance, showing amazing vocal skill in “It Takes A Moment” to great comedic timing in the song “Dancing” where he learns how to dance. The combination of his well-delivered lines and dynamic dancing created a character that I thoroughly enjoyed. Delano portrayed a very interesting character that is low on cash, yet wants to have fun. 

Jonathan Hardin played the role of Barnaby Tucker, Cornelius’ energetic, naive assistant at Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed Store. His youthful innocence was very apparent by his tone and body language in his interactions with the character Minnie Fay, portrayed by Joanna Phillips. His energy was very strong during the songs “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “Dancing”. Hardin was very consistent in the portrayal of his character and always had a very distinguishable expression.

Diane Powell played the widowed hat shop owner Irene Molloy in New York that wants to return to society after the loss of her husband. Powell has an incredible voice that was very evident during the songs “Ribbons Down My Back” and “It Only Takes A Moment – Part II”. She has good acting skills, as witnessed in the courtroom scene where she responds to Cornelius in “It Only Takes A Moment – Part II”. Her interactions with Minnie Fay and Cornelius Hackl were dynamic and believable.

Joanna Phillips played the role of Minnie Fay, the naïve young girl who works in Irene’s hat shop. Phillips had a comedic entrance when she is opening the stuck door and she maintained that comedy and energy every time she was onstage. Her panicked expression when she found men in the hat shop was amusing to see and her interactions with Barnaby were very comedic and naïve, creating a plausible character.

Jessica Peterson and Zachariah Wiedeman played the roles of Horace Vandergelder’s loud, crying niece Ermengarde and the young, proud artist Ambrose Kemper, respectively. Peterson kept the crying at a constant, irritating level whenever she was onstage showing an immature young woman who wants to be free from all the restrictions her uncle has placed on her, while Wiedeman’s character constantly gave her loving, though sometimes irritated looks at all the crying. Both Peterson and Wiedeman performed admirably in their respective roles, creating an interesting couple. 

Lindsay Hayward played the scandalous Ernestina. Hayward was good at delivering her lines, showing her character’s low class and was realistic in the ludicrous things that her character did onstage, such as laying across on the dinner table and kicking her legs in the air to shock Horace Vandergelder. Hayward’s energy was constant throughout the show, making me curious about what she was going to do next to scandalize the other characters onstage. 

The ensemble was energetic and enjoyable throughout the evening, with good dancing, vigorous expressions and constant chemistry with each other as well with the main characters on the stage. This performed wonderfully, adding to the ambiance of the musical and creating a reality onstage that helped draw me in deeper into the storyline. 

“Hello Dolly!” is a fun musical that is being performed by some exceptional talent. I highly recommend checking it out. The energetic performances, with the comedic musical numbers will draw you into the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi. Her meddling in the lives of the other characters will have you enjoying every minute of the show. And who knows, if you need something found, advice, or a recipe, I’m sure Dolly will give you her card!

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