Review by Danny Gaisin
Thornton Wilder’s “Matchmaker” is an outdated descriptive (except for some Southeast Asian cultures) that’s been replaced by such websites as E-Harmony™. However, the story and concept can still bring on a touch of nostalgia, especially if modernized by Broadway’s Michael Stewart & Jerry Herman. Hello Dolly is the musical account of Dolly Levi; the eponymous ‘Shiksa with a Yiddishe kop! Director Avery Saltzman has fortuitously fashioned an interpretation that has only heroes/heroines…no villains.
Widowed Dolly has set her sights on an almost-wealthy widower whose Scrooge-like attitudes and misogynist philosophy make him a perfect target for a determined manipulative female. Naturally the major plot deals with our protagonist and her objective; ancillary relationships deal with his daughter and her beau; his principal employee & a sacrificial matrimonial offering of Dolly’s.
Saltzman utilizes a minimal but descriptive mobile-set as backdrop. Thus, focus and interest lies with his cast members. They must carry the play with song; dance and thespian talent. Providentially his actors demonstrate full measure in all three classifications. Well-trained and tonally pleasing voices abound; the choreographed chorus numbers are professional-grade, and the acting is faultless. The result is epitomic entertainment par excellence.
The pivotal starring role demands that Laura Larson’s Dolly appear in just about every scene and definitely front & centre stage. She manages to hold the spotlight in spite of strong challenges from a powerful coterie of support or adversarial characters. She can sing and she can act. Larson manages to project an image, not of the derogatory J.A.P.; but an empathetic yet indomitable pre- Steinem liberated woman. Her objective –Horace Vandergelder, is amazingly interpreted by Tom Davis. In spite of Wilder’s negative attitudes, this character is almost appealing in his telegraphed comeuppance and final surrender. His Act I solo about the attributes he wants and needs in a partner is so politically incorrect as to shock; yet in Davis’s hands, no one could be even slightly offended.
The support duo of his staff members are archetypical Laurel & Hardy/ Martin & Lewis /Abbot & Costello duets. Lucas Popowich and Cameron Francis play off each other as perfect foils. Popowich‘s character has one of the show’s major hit songs – “It only takes a moment” and he sells it with credibility and aplomb. Even the facial expression mirrors what he’s iterating. There is some definite chemistry between him and milliner Samantha Gaetz.
There are some outstanding & noticeable support cast. Luc Trottier’s maître D’ relies on a highly mobile face as well as a ‘Little Dictator’ seemingly improv bit to enhance his character. When he and his dozen restaurant minions (male chorus) perform the play’s title number…it’s a directorial and choreographical show-stopper. Made this scribe wonder what the male equivalent of Radio City Rockettes™ is! This was professional chorus effort, but with positive-charged attitude, and being staged from within the audience certainly added to the impact. Closest competitive number; the Francis/Gaetz/Dooley/Popowich version of ‘Elegance’. They; and the entire show have it in abundance.
Kept noticing two standouts among the ensemble… Robyn Harrison’s cheekbone structure; Vanessa Sears beaming wattage; and Kimberly-Ann Truong’s dedication. The costumes are amazing; the lighting – effective and the five-piece orchestra is faultless and never overpowering.
Pre-curtain; a brief ‘Sound-Eng. 101’ course from Todd Charlton. His 1 x 2 metre board with its countless gadgetry operates by computer but he still has the 168 cues that can’t be missed, and his two-dozen plus individual mikes to balance. To me, the man is a blending of Air-Traffic controller; taxi dispatcher and railway system operator rolled into one.
“DOLLY” and company will be at Sheridan until Dec. 7th. Don’t miss the opportunity of seeing a definitive O.A.R. Top Ten contender.