'Hello, Dolly' a must-see this summer
Thursday, August 8, 2013
By JOSEPH CERVELLI
No matter what your summer travel plans may be, I urge you to make a detour to the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Conn., for a joyously sensational revival of Jerry Herman's 1964 mega hit musical "Hello, Dolly!"
Directed with effervescent charm by David Goldstein, he has knowingly expanded the staging to have the performers utilize the aisles of the theater not only during the crowd pleasing "Before the Parade Passes By" but also by introducing Dolly Gallagher Levi not in the usual way riding in on a trolley but having her walk down the aisle. It is a clever opening with her handing out business cards to audience members since besides being a matchmaker (the show is based on Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker") she is a self-proclaimed lady of all trades.
While the great Carol Channing put her own indelible mark on the role, Klea Blackhurst has also put her own personal stamp on Dolly making the character brassier and more boisterous. From her first impressive entrance I thought I was seeing and hearing Ethel Merman for whom the show was originally created. But Blackhurst does not channel the late amazing Merman. She is not recreating Mama Rose from "Gypsy," although I would love to see her in that famed musical. She is feisty and funny, but still warm. And when she comes down the staircase for the indomitable title number the show belongs to her.
What is surprisingly refreshing is how this production makes the lesser know numbers in Herman's insouciant score real standouts. I cannot remember seeing such a more animated rendition of "It Takes a Woman." That is thanks to Tony Sheldon ("Priscilla Queen of the Desert") who instead of portraying the "half a millionaire" Horace Vandergelder as stodgy, makes him lively and attractive. One can easily see why Dolly would want to marry him for herself. The same holds true for the simple "Ribbons Down My Back." I always felt the role of Irene Molly who owns the millinery shop but rather be married to be a rather laid back role. However, in Ashley Brown's ("Mary Poppins") presentation she creates a more interesting individual and her rendition of that number is simply beautiful.
Equally good is Spencer Moses as a lanky Steve Buscemi lookalike in the role of the milquetoast Cornelius Hackl one of the two employees of Vandergelder's feed store. The other is Barnaby Tucker being given a standout funny performance by Jeremy Morse. They deliver the rousing "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" with perfect aplomb and exhibit the necessary wide eyed wonder as they are heading into Manhattan a world they have never explored before.
Wade LaBoissonniere's costumes for the women are vibrantly colorful and intricately designed as well as the humorous plaids for the men. Adrian W. Jones has done a first rate job with the set design that incorporates some black and white early NYC backdrops.
Here is a production where everything clicks perfectly. And even though Michael Stewart's book may be a bit creaky after all these years, the show still satisfies. When an audience still laughs heartily at the sight gag that has Blackhurst with perfect comic timing eating her corn on the cob while the court proceedings are taking place you know that Goldstein has taken a show nearly 50 years old and made it feel refreshingly new.
Tickets are available at the Goodspeed Opera House 6 Main Street, East Haddam, Conn. or by calling 860-873-8668 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 860-873-8668 FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting. As of this date the limited engagement ends Sept. 17.