by Macey Levin
Hello, Dolly!, an American classic, is receiving a terrific revival on Broadway with Bette Midler. It is also receiving a terrific revival at Chatham, New York’s Mac-Haydn Theatre with a marvelous Dolly and a spirited and talented cast.
Based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, the original production, directed by Gower Champion, opened in 1964 and ran for 2844 performances, closing in 1970. Dolly Gallagher Levi has become Carol Channing’s signature role; at one time or another she was followed by Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable and Pearl Bailey among others. A movie starring Barbra Streisand and directed by Gene Kelly in 1969 didn’t match the charm or artistry of the original.
The story, taking place in the late 19th century, centers around widowed matchmaker Dolly’s pursuit of Horace Vandergelder, Yonkers, New York’s “half-a-millionaire.” As she conspires to get him to propose, three younger couples find their own romance and, of course, everything ends happily.
With a book by Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman’s music and lyrics, Mac-Haydn’s production is a gem. At the opening performance the first few minutes felt somewhat tentative, but after Monica M. Wemitt gives us a charmingly conniving Dolly with “I Put My Hand In,” the show flies with dazzling choreography by Sebastiani Romagnalo and sparkling staging by director John Saunders.
Herman’s score includes the show’s incomparable title song (and Louis Armstrong’s biggest popular hit) as well as other effective but not as highly reputed numbers. In particular, there are the wistful “Ribbons Down My Back” sung beautifully by the milliner Irene Molloy (Rachel Rhodes-Devey) and “Before the Parade Passes By” opened by a reflective Dolly then expanding to a rousing, exciting showstopper that includes the entire cast. “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” sung by Cornelius Hackl (Ryan Michael Owens,) Barnaby Tucker (Dan Hacke) and the entire company is one of Romagnalo’s most imaginative dance numbers. The “Waiter’s Gallop” which leads into “Hello, Dolly” is almost beyond belief in its complexity and integration of movement.
Wemitt’s Dolly is delicious and shrewd as she invents little lie after little lie to ensnare Vandergelder or to assist his niece Ermengarde (Catherine Skojec) and the love of her life Ambrose Kemper (Dakota Dutcher) to get the uncle’s permission to marry. Vandergelder is played by Brian D. Wagner. As with the first scene of the show he began somewhat tentatively but allowed his cantankerous character come through as the “half-millionaire” loses control of the world around him. The major sub-plot is the budding romance between Irene and Cornelius which is beautifully delivered in their duet “It Only Takes a Moment.” Barnaby is smitten with Irene’s assistant Minnie Fay (Steffany Pratt.) These six performers shine, not only with their electric voices and dancing, but their characterizations are solid all the way through. The entire cast, numbering over 30, are focused. Many of them play several parts and their energy never seems to lapse. This is a cast that loves what they are doing.
Director Saunders keeps the rapid pace of the show under control. Each moment means something and contributes to the writers’ intentions. He has maintained both a sense of comedy and a recognition of the dramatic subtext of the play. Enough cannot be said of choreographer Romagnola’s work. To move this huge number of dancers across the relatively small playing space while interacting with the principal characters is a model of vision and theatricality. The small band, led by David Maglione, is energetc and musically adept, though sometimes too brassy; but that’s part of the show.
There is a multitude of rich and historically correct costumes designed by Bethany Marks that bring color and vibrancy to the stage. This is a gorgeous production to look at thanks to her. Andrew Gmoser’s lighting design complements and subtly adds to the tone of each scene. The sets by Kevin Gleason are minimal since the Mac-Haydn is a theatre-in-the-round, but they identify locations simply and effectively. The set changes, of which there are many, are cleverly integrated with the musical numbers so that there aren’t minutes of dead air.
About the Mac-Haydn… The phrase “summer stock” suggests amateurish productions or a nominally successful Broadway personality deigning to work with a young, often non-professional cast. The Mac-Haydn uses creative integrity to bring quality productions to its audience. The performers, designers and technicians are given the opportunity to test their talents in a space that presents logistical problems. It is to the credit of the producers as well as the creative personnel that Mac-Haydn offers enjoyable and provocative entertainment.
If you want to smile and laugh and fully treasure the experience, don’t walk, don’t run… fly to see Hello, Dolly! at the Mac-Haydn in Chatham!
Hello, Dolly!; Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman; Book by Michael Stewart; Directed by John Saunders; Choreographer: Sebastiani Romagnalo; Musical direction by David Maglione and Jillian Zack; Cast: Monica M. Wemitt (Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi) Meg Dooley (Ernestina Money) Dakota Dutcher (Ambrose Kemper) Brian D. Wagner (Horace Vandergelder) Catherine Skojec (Ermengarde) Ryan Michael Owens (Cornelius Hackl) Dan Macke (Barnaby Tucker) Steffany Pratt (Minnie Fay) Rachel Rhodes-Devey (Irene Molloy) Victoria Benkoski (Mrs. Rose) Gabe Belyeu (Rudolph Reisenweber) Quinn Corcoran (Stanley) Stephen C. Kallas (Fritz) Alex Carr (Harry) Connor Hubbard (Louie) Atsushi Eda (Danny) Ross Flores (Manny) Bryce McAllister (Hank) Laura Michele Erle (First cook) Katie Skawski (Second cook) Ross Flores (Judge) Stephen C. Kallas & Alex Carr (Policemen) Connor Hubbard (Court Clerk) Alex Carr (Paperhanger) Ensemble: Michele Carter, Laura Michele Erle, Kelly Gabriel Murphy, Megan Hasse, Katie Skawski, Victoria Benkoski, Meg Dooley, Lauren Wrigley, Gabe Belyeu, Alex Carr, Quinn Corcoran, Connor Hubbard, Stephen C. Kallas, Bryce Mcallister, Atsushhi Eda; Scene Design: Kevin Gleason; Lighting design: Andrew Gmoser; Costume design: Bethany Marx; Sound design/Audio engineer: Ethan Carleton; Wig Designers: Michael Dunn, Timothy Williams; Stage Manager: Jen Motta; Running Time: 2 hours forty-five minutes, includes one intermission; Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham, NY; From 8/24/17 to 9/3/17.