Leave it to the Goodspeed Opera House to take the warhorse of a show, Hello, Dolly!, and transform it into a lively and highly enjoyable summertime production. Every aspect of the musical is right on target--the superb casting, spirited choreography, imaginative sets, fanciful outfits and, especially, the sumptuous Jerry Herman score.
Hello, Dolly! tells the story of a brash yenta type character, Dolly Levi, who has been hired by the gruff, cantankerous half-millionaire Horace Vandergeider to match him up with a suitable bride. Dolly, though, has other plans. Instead of the intended young, pretty Irene Molloy, she has her own eyes set on Vandergeider. Meanwhile, as the irascible Yonkers businessman heads to New York City to meet his prearranged wife, his two clerks, Barnaby and Cornelius, decide the time is ripe for their own excitement and head off to the big city for adventure and, possibly, romance. By the end of the musical cupid’s arrow has targeted all for the proverbial happy ending.
So, where do I begin in praising this production of Hello, Dolly!? Let’s start with the casting. Klea Blackhurt, as Dolly, is mischievous, boisterous, and meddlesome; yet possess a heart of gold as she weaves her matrimonial spells. She is more Ethel Merman then Carol Channing. Composer Jerry Herman originally wrote the part for Merman, who turned it down, tired of the theatrical life. It wasn’t until the end of the show’s original seven year Broadway run that Merman entered the role, the last of the six women to play the part. Blackhurst, who has played Ethel Merman in an acclaimed one-woman show, has a booming voice that resonates throughout the Goodspeed theater.
She is paired with Ashley Brown as the lovely widow, Irene Malloy. Brown, the original Mary Poppins on Broadway, has a beautiful soprano that captivates the audience. Her presence balances perfectly with Blackhurst so one doesn’t overshadow the other. Tony Sheldon as the overbearing Horace Vandergelder also holds his own with his formidable co-stars. Spencer Moses, as Cornelius, provides a delightful comic flair as he and sidekick Barnaby, played with wholesome juvenile pluck by Jeremy Morse, search for romance and adventure in New York City.
What separates Hello, Dolly! from many musicals is the tuneful, highly satisfying Jerry Herman score. Every song, even the lesser-known numbers, are a pure listening and toe-tapping delight delivered, as described above, by a first rate group of actors. The many gems include “It Takes a Woman,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” ‘Before the Parade Passes By,” and the title number, “Hello, Dolly.”
Speaking of toe-tapping, choreographer Kelli Barclay deserves kudos for enlivening the Goodspeed stage with such energetic and athletic dance routines. The prolonged sequence at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, with waiters bounding about, is pure precision and the highlight of the musical. When Dolly descends the illustrious grand staircase of the eating establishment, garbed in a fabulously sequined gown, belting the show’s signature song, with the ensemble singing and dancing around her, you realize what theatrical magic is all about.
Director Daniel Goldstein, working in concert with the creative team, artfully guides the production, fully invigorating the show with zest and inspiration. In lesser hands this Hello, Dolly! could have been tired and hackneyed. Goldstein, on the other hand, has steered the show to a deserved standing ovation at the musical's finale.
The sets by Adrian Jones are diverse and multi-faceted, adding to the grandeur and imaginativeness of the musical. Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes, especially for the women, are exquisite, elegantly evoking latter 19th century New York society.
Hello, Dolly!—“You're looking swell…you're still glowin', you're still crowin'.” Now playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through September 14th.