Beth Beyer shines as Dolly Levi in terrific retelling of the matchmaker musical!
Reviewed by Tom Jones, January 16, 2016
Beth Beyer is a great charmer as the brassy matchmaker whose marriage she most desires to arrange is her own. Dolly has business calling cards for every eventuality, and puts them all to use in arranging everything from dancing lessons to marriage proposals. Beth Beyer is well known to Candlelight audiences, and she maintains center stage as the conniving but ever-delightful “Dolly.”
While Beyer reigns as queen of the stage, Kent Sugg is another revelation as the curmudgeon Horace Vandergelder, Yonkers’s famous “half a millionaire” who has hired Dolly to find a wife for him. Sugg is another audience favorite in Johnstown, and is at his best in “Hello Dolly.” He is in fine voice and great gruffness as the penny-pinching Horace Vandergelder, not willing to give his staff even an afternoon off work.
“Hello Dolly” lit up the stage on Broadway in 1964 receiving 10 Tony Awards that year, including being named as Best Musical.” Competition was strong as that was the season that Barbra Streisand stormed the Broadway stage in “Funny Girl.” Dolly was triumphant, however, as critics and audiences were captivated by its vitality, sensational music, and basic charm. Music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman, based on the Thornton Wilder play, “The Matchmaker.” Carol Channing was the original “Dolly.” The performance made her a legend, and she played the role in many different productions over many years. Original direction and choreography were by Gower Champion, who also went on to become a legend, due in great part to his work on “Dolly.” The musical was released as a movie in 1969 with Barbra Streisand playing the lead.
The action takes place at the turn of the century in Yonkers, New York, where Horace Vandergelder is getting ready to board the train to New York City with Dolly to meet Irene Molloy, a widow who owns a hat shop in the city. Dolly has arranged a meeting with the concern that Horace may actually find Molloy to be of interest. The stage becomes alive thanks to Pat Payne who has staged and directed this delight. Bob Hoppe provides the excellent chorography. Well-known music begins with “Call on Dolly” and continues in the first act to include “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” where the stage is in constant motion as locals prepare to travel to the city in time for an important 14th Street Parade, and Dolly’s plea to her deceased husband, “Before the Parade Passes By.”
The production is a scenic wonder. Lighting is exciting, costumes, and set are brilliant. Voices and dancing share the kudos of an evening of musical fun. Vocal Music Director is Melissa Swift-Sawyer, with Costumes by Debra Faber and Judith Ernst. Lighting is by Shannon Johnson with Sound by Mark Derryberry. Casey Kearns has designed an attractive set.
While Beyer and Sugg are the shows stars, they are given excellent support by several performers. First and foremost is Barret Harper as Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s assistant manager. He has been in several regional productions, but has not enjoyed the spotlight he earns as Cornelius. He sings. He dances, He is a super comedian. Isaac J. Sprague is also very good as Cornelius’ 17-year-old sidekick Barnaby Tucker, who accompanies his friend to New York with the promise to see a stuffed whale! Hackl and Tucker find a reason to abandon their work, also traveling to New York. They find Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop only nearly to be discovered on the premises by Vandergelder. Alisha Winter-Hayes is very good as Mrs. Molloy ad Melissa Morris s great fun as Molloy’s employee, Minnie Fay. The hat shop scene is a Broadway favorite that becomes more bizarre with each performance. Timing is wondrous, as Hackl and Tucker are hidden by Molloy under the table, in the cupboard, and under the table again – hopefully to hide from their employer who they are trying to avoid. Molloy’s assistant Minnie Fay is naively super, a perfect foil for the also-naïve Barnaby Tucker. Added to this delightful mix are Eric Heine as Ambrose Kemper and Bussy Gower as an always-wailing Ermengarde who wants only to get married. And then there is the off-the-wall loony Enestina Money, played by Annie Dwyer. Ernestina is a wild-looking woman in need of Dolly’s services as a matchmaker.
Act Two is centered around the goings-on in the Harmonia Gardens where everyone ends up after the parade and a long, long walk to the restaurant. The Gardens were Dolly’s old stomping grounds, and the staff is excited to have her return with the famous welcome “Hello Dolly.” This scene is sometimes too frenetic, and the split-second timing to make the dancing more effective will be a result of more experience.
Dolly is returning to the Harmonia Gardens, this time in Johnstown, through March 6, 2016. It is rare that dinner theatre patrons rise to the occasion of giving a show a standing ovation. The “Dolly” performance that I saw was the exception, as the theater audience seemed to be as welcoming to Dolly as the Harmonia Gardens patrons, with a well-deserved standing ovation.
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: March 6, 2016
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747