“Hello, Dolly!” is making a comeback at The Players Centre. The musical won ten Tony Awards when it burst onto Broadway in 1964, and boasted lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a script by Michael Stewart. It was based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” which he’d adapted, then readapted, from a one-act play.
The musical’s origin story is complicated. But the story it tells is fairly simple. Make that stories.
“Hello, Dolly!” has two converging plot lines, which unfold in Yonkers and New York City in the 1890s. The main story belongs to Dolly Gallagher Levi (Alyssa Goudy), naturally. She’s a widow, a matchmaker and a fixer. Horace Vandergelder (Tony Boothby), a wealthy Yonkers businessman, hires Dolly to find him a bride. Dolly finds him one — herself, naturally. (Spoiler Alert: Being a sensible man, Horace knows a bargain when he sees it and finally agrees.) In the second story, two frustrated, young clerks (Christos Nicholoudis and Luke Manual McFatrich) are stuck in dead-end lives. Their love lives are D.O.A., and their careers are on life-support. (Cornelius and Barnaby both work for the penny-pinching, micromanaging Vandergelder.) Thanks to Dolly, the lads have a night on the town in New York City and break out of their respective ruts.
Director Brian H. Finnerty and assistant director Amanda Heisey hit it out of the park. It’s a big, splashy show. In all the hoopla, it’s easy to overlook the simple humanism at the musical’s core. Finnerty and Heisey don’t. Finnerty also choreographs, and pushes the potential of The Players’ small stage to the limit. His take on the “Waiters’ Gallop” is a lot of surreal fun, but nerve-wracking if you’ve ever worked in the food service industry.
Goudy’s Dolly is a doll. Her character brims with joie de vivre and never comes off as manipulative. It’s an original performance, and not derivative of either Carol Channing or Barbara Streisand. Boothby is comic without being over-the-top as the curmudgeonly Vandergelder. The musical stacks the deck against him, but he soldiers on with slow-burn comic timing.
McFatrich’s Barnaby has a goofy, bubbling intelligence. His performance reminds me of a young Stephen Furst. Nicholoudis’ Cornelius is boiling with repressed desire — like a teenager whose puberty lasted 18 extra years. Cornelius ultimately finds true love with hat shop owner Irene (Alana Opie), another widow who’s put her life on hold. Her assistant, Minnie (Zoe Smith), is a giggling ball of energy with a big heart and tiny footsteps. Both find love with Barnaby and Cornelius, respectively.
Lily Mancini is a hoot as the perpetually weeping Ermengarde, Vandergelder’s niece. She’s in love with an artist named Ambrose (Brett Anglin), but her stern uncle has forbidden the marriage. (No worries. Dolly fixes that, too.)
Michael Newton-Brown’s set design is as versatile as a Swiss Army knife. He creates a fine backdrop of New York City in the 1890s and various rotating set pieces that evoke Vandergelder’s feed store, Irene’s millinery boutique and the Harmonia Gardens restaurant.
Georgina Willmott and David Walker’s costumes are eye-popping and colorful. This is a stage musical, not a movie. But the rainbow of finery feels like Technicolor. Kudos also to Michael Pasquini’s cinematic sense of lighting.
Jerry Herman’s songs get in your head and stay there. “Hello, Dolly!” is the most irresistible earworm, but “Before the Parade Passes By” and “Ribbons Down My Back” are also memorable. “It Takes a Woman” deftly skewers Vendergelder’s sexist notion of a wife as an all-purpose, household task machine. Dolly will no doubt set him straight.
Alan Jay Corey’s musical direction is excellent. Strictly speaking, his vocal direction is excellent. There’s a recording in lieu of a band. The recorded soundtrack is lush — and occasionally overbearing.
This musical’s a long one. I’m happy to say it never feels like it. The Players production grabs you and makes you care about the characters. And occasionally makes you think.
As “Hello, Dolly!” is based on a Thornton Wilder play, it’s no surprise to find serious ideas lurking beneath its bright parade.
The first big idea: Love and money are intimately connected. That’s nothing to be ashamed of — and both should be spread around. The second: No man (or woman) is an island. If you drop out of life’s parade, the loss is yours.
Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.