Dolly Levi is back to her matchmaking shenanigans as the iconic Jerry Herman musical Hello, Dolly!cavorts onto The Carnegie stage. The original 1964 production virtually swept the Tonys including Best Musical with numerous Broadway revivals and repeated versions in regional theaters throughout the world.
The Plot of Hello, Dolly!
Based upon the Thornton Wilder play The Matchmaker, wealthy but stodgy Yonkers storeowner Horace Vandergelder (Allen Middleton) hires “meddler” Dolly Levi (Sara Mackie) to find a wife for him during the early 20th century. Dolly agrees but already has someone in mind for Horace – herself. Horace’s niece Ermengarde (Arabella Bertucci) also enlists Dolly because she wants to marry artist Ambrose Kemper (Carson Mehlbauer) which Horace opposes.
Horace’s store clerks Cornelius Hackl (Jack Manion) and Barnaby Tucker (Mathew Callas) are hoping for an adventure to New York City and maybe find some romance in the process. Horace is scheduled to meet the widow Irene Molloy, a millinery shop owner (Kara Ann Scullin). However, the younger Molloy is not really interested and, along with friend and employee Minnie Fay (Aliya Pimental) set their “hats” for Barnaby and Cornelius whom they meet in their shop when the men are fleeing Horace in New York.
They all converge at the glamorous and expensive Harmonia Gardens restaurant and merry mayhem ensues as the respective couples try to sort out their desires and respective soulmates. The story is both witty and silly, sophisticated and corny, satirical and slapsticky. Two ongoing gags include Dolly continually producing business cards which increasingly become personalized and her plea to her dead husband Efram to free her so she can marry Horace.
Themes of Hello, Dolly!
This is mostly a madcap comedy but there are serious themes intertwined amidst the chaos including the American class system of high society versus rural bumpkins, wealth and impoverishment, early feminism, loneliness, and the desire to improve your station in life.
Composer/lyricist Jerry Herman is known for melodic music, clever wordplay, and big production numbers. All are showcased here. There is a lot of dancing (choreographed by Elizabeth VandeWater) intermingled with the songs as shown in the opening scene. Dolly explains her matchmaking prowess with “I Put My Hand in Here” while the chorus appears as a variety of couples introduced by Dolly. “It Takes a Woman” is both an old-fashioned view of the wifely role sung by Horace and a feminist anthem sung by Dolly in a reprise. The first major production number is “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” as Barnaby and Cornelius and the remainder of the cast prepare for their New York City adventures.
Irene longs for a more exciting life with the haunting “Ribbons Down My Back”, a reference to a provocative fashion statement. Dolly instructs Cornelius and Barnaby on the art of “Dancing.” In my opinion, the best song musically and dramatically is “Before the Parade Passes By” which ends the first act. In a musical soliloquy, Dolly starts poignantly, fearing that her life has “passed her by” but ends resoundingly and triumphantly with new determination joined by the chorus.
The signature number, of course, is the title song which combines extraordinary dancing by the restaurant waiters (“The Waiter’s Gallop”) with the glorious entrance of Dolly festooned in a bright red dress with a tall, feathered hat (designed by John Faas). Mackie and the waiters are brilliant in this iconic showstopping highlight. The dancing is spirited, athletic and comedic with frenetic elements of a Mack Sennett Keystone Cops movie.
Director Joe Bertucci has woven the musical and dancing elements well with a quick-paced and flawless production. VandeWater’s choreography is varied, athletic, comedic, and extremely energetic. All the dancers are excellent, highlighted by Mehlbauer, Bertucci, Manion and Callas. The level of dancing is amazing considering the smallish stage. The sets and props designed by Tyler Gabbard allow a variety of scenes by using two sets of curtains to demarcate the stage.
The production star, however, is the elaborate and extensive costuming designed by Faas with wigs by Candace Leyland. You’ll lose count of the number of different turn-of-the-20th-Century dresses which Dolly wears in colors ranging from black to purple to red to white. The dresses all have bustles with multiple layers of cloth. The men wear a variety of clerk’s uniforms, waiter’s outfits, suits, tuxedos, etc., all in brilliant colors and varied patterns. It looks like an MGM technicolor musical.
Dolly is a star vehicle which means that the matchmaker had better be star worthy or the play fails. Mackie succeeds as the star, combining brassy, witty, exuberance and quick wittedness with self-doubt and yearning. She also sings and struts well. Middleton as Horace is properly stuffy, self-indulgent, dour, and cheap. Manion as Cornelius is a combination of competence and goofiness (ala Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow) and Callas’ Barnaby displays youthful enthusiasm and energy. Scullin delights as Irene accompanied by the giggly Fay (Pimental). Emily Hilbrecht adds silliness as the “hoochy koochy” girl.
This is a delightful, fast moving, energetic production of one of Broadway’s best Golden Age musicals. It is also very funny.