Encore’s "Hello, Dolly!" is still looking swell
After all these years the adventures of New York City matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi are still going strong.
Dolly is now working her magic at the Encore Musical Theatre, where Hello, Dolly!’s jaunty style, catchy title song, and lively dances make it the perfect sprightly bauble for the coming holiday season.
Hello, Dolly! was a hit right from the start. The original 1964 New York production starring Carol Channing became the longest running musical on Broadway up to that time, with numerous leading ladies filling the role that Channing made famous. The title song became a mega-hit record for Louis Armstrong, briefly toppling The Beatles from the top of the charts. The musical has been revived numerous times on Broadway, most recently last year with a smash hit staging starring Bette Midler.
Dolly is a role that demands a big performance and, in Dexter, Marlene Inman confidently takes charge in flamboyant 1890s dresses and bonnets as the brassy matchmaker. Under director Jamie Colburn, Inman literally takes center stage and the story of multiple match makings swirls around her.
Hello, Dolly! with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart is based on a Thornton Wilder play, The Matchmaker. The plot is a bit thin, but the lively dancing, comic pratfalls, and pleasant songs have carried the show a long way.
Dolly is a widow who knows how to get things done and seems to have a calling card for every conceivable situation. But her specialty is matchmaking. As the musical opens, she is meddling in several lives at the same time. She’s helping a young artist woo the niece of noted Yonkers “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder, while at the same time helping widower Horace find a new wife. But Dolly is finally ready for love, after pining for years over her beloved Ephram Levi. She has her sights set on Horace, even as she’s promising him a match with Irene Molloy, the owner of a posh women’s hat shop in Manhattan.
Horace is a dour and miserly man, who owns a feed store in Yonkers. His two overworked and ill-treated clerks are fed up with his cheap ways and plan to set out for a “wild” trip to Manhattan to finally “kiss a girl.” In those days, Yonkers was the sticks and New York was the devil’s playground. But the two are innocents, who find their way to Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop and, with the help of Dolly, of course, take the store owner and her clerk out on the town with meager funds.
Things all come together at a polka competition at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where the comedy, athletic dancing, and romance all reach their peak.
Colburn has to stage a lot of big comedy and dance numbers in the tight confines of the Encore Stage. The stage is even smaller for this production because the bandstand is on stage. For these reasons, the show doesn’t have quite the dazzle and breathing room that the musical requires. Also, the color of the show is almost all in the costumes. New York is represented by a black cityscape layout. Harmonia’s grand stairway seems cramped and not as grand an entryway as Dolly deserves.
But, as usual at the Encore, a fine cast and a solid band carry the day. Colburn has his cast hit all the right comic beats. His director’s notes tell the audience that his intention was to center around Dolly and that’s a good choice.
Inman has the vigorous presence needed to make Dolly larger than life and she does an expert job of breaking the fourth wall to let the audience in on her tricks. She sashay’s through “I Put My Hand In,” struts through “Before the Parade Passes By,” and is appropriately regal in her entry at the Harmonia on “Hello, Dolly!”
The always impressive Keith Kalinowski is perfect for Horace. His scowling face reflects the world-weary cheapskate but also a man with a heart under all that gruff. He sings the disarming and politically incorrect “It Takes a Woman” with zest (joined humorously by a chorus of disgruntled men out of nowhere). Kalinowski’s expressive face lights up on his vision of a woman who will do all the work. Later, as Horace is outplayed by Dolly, Kalinowski’s performance softens Horace just enough without spoiling his grumpy side.
Dong Atkins gives a bright cornpone performance as Horace’s chief clerk Cornelius Hackl who, at 31, is yearning for his first kiss. Atkins plays Cornelius as a sweet innocent rather than as a rube and it’s a good choice. He has a couple of fine musical moments with “Elegance” and, especially, the romantic “It Only Takes a Moment.”
Cole Thompson is Cornelius’ partner is rebellion, Barnaby Tucker. He’s the shyer and even more innocent one. Thompson gives Barnaby a nice awe shucks quality and is excellent at the pratfall comedy. He also sings and dances on the soft shoe “Elegance.”
Sarah Brown plays the regal Irene Molloy. She plays a sophisticated city woman easily charmed by Cornelius. She sings a sweet and hopeful “Ribbons Down My Back.”
Other standouts are Katy MacCutcheon as Mrs. Molloy’s outspoken, rumor-loving clerk Minnie; Anna Dreslinski Cooke as Horace’s very weepy niece Ermengarde; Connor Giles as her eager beaver suitor Ambrose; and round-faced, high-energy Mitchell J. Hardy as the put-upon waiter Stanley and several ensemble roles.
Despite the small space, the big scenes at the Harmonia are still standouts. The dancing waiters leaping spritely through the air, the comic pratfalls of Hardy, and the swirl of activity as the waiters line up to welcome Dolly home have energy and wit. The riotous actions as the scene closes and shifts from restaurant to courtroom are smoothly handled.
Musical director Casey Baker leads a good on-stage band, especially through the mad climatic Harmonia scenes.
Hello, Dolly! has a long history because it works. It doesn’t have one of the great scores, it isn’t as sweeping as other famous musicals, and it isn’t as adventurous as more recent musicals. But it has a dynamic leading character, a catchy score, sly humor, and some outstanding dance routines. It keeps on looking swell, and we can tell, it’s still growing, it’s still going strong!
Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.
"Hello, Dolly!" will be presented at 7:30 pm on Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23 at the Encore Musical Theatre Company, 3126 Broad St., Dexter. For tickets, call 733-268-6200, visit the box office at the theater or go online to theencoretheatre.org.