Back in the Nineteenth century there was a popular one-act play about a special day in the lives of some young people. Thornton Wilder pirated the plot for his 1938 ‘Merchant of Yonkers’ tale. Seventeen years later he updated the story as ‘The Matchmaker”. Less than a decade later Merrick turned it into a 2800 performance Broadway musical starring Carol Channing. Since then, “HELLO DOLLY” is almost continually on stage somewhere in America. Now it’s CMT’s turn in the barrel and the result is a ‘gantza megillah’ [big deal!]
One of the drawbacks about doing what we do as critics is the plethora of having to see the same stuff myriad times. Occasionally this means the unenviable situation where one knows all the lyrics and dialogue by heart. Last year, Sheridan College’s staging of ‘Dolly’under Avery Saltzman made our TOP TEN list with an effort that was pure ‘Elegance’ throughout. CLARKSON MUSIC THEATRE selected the musical for its 70th anniversary effort and although CMT is community theatre, I intend to use my professional-grade pencil in this evaluation. Except for the rather simplistic stage set— CMT measures up!
Dolly Levi is an entrepreneurial Yonkers matchmaker. Widowed, she; of necessity; is a Jill-of-all-trades, i.e. has an essential ‘Yiddishe Kop’. The role is one of theatre’s most demanding as it requires the eponymous character to be almost continually stage-front and must be an accomplished triple-threat: – singer/dancer/actor. Director Michael MacLennan who also choreographed, has wisely chosen Jo Kemp to portray Dolly Gallagher Levi. No ‘meat pies’ this time! Kemp has all the mannerisms, chutzpah; and charisma that Wilder tried to represent in both his original writings. She simply glows and the smile is 1000watt as she successfully manipulates everyone around her. Poor Michael Marando’s ‘Horace’ doesn’t stand a chance against her machinations.
There is a subplot that concerns Horace’s two underpaid/overworked employees; John Galbraith & Mark Jones (in the ‘Barnaby’ role that brought Robert Morse to Broadway) who play hooky and also head to Manhattan for a day of fun. Both meet Horace’s Dolly-intended match at her millinery shop and are besotted by Alix Kingston’s “Irene” and her young assistant ‘Minnie’ played by Alex Clementi. The chemistry between Galbraith & Kingston is only outdone by their dancing duets and the little gestures of familiarity that seem more than-director-indicated. If it weren’t for Jo Kemp, Kingston & Galbraith would share top billing. A sub sub-plot incorporates Horace’s daughter and her suitor. Laura Carney and Dylan Roose give strong chorographical support during the paucity of time on stage; her tearful outcries contribute immediate hilarity every time she shrieks.
Today there’s on-line dating and the insipid E-Harmony pitchman on TV. In my (our) day it was Terry’s Aunt Sadie and my old school-mate Perry who played the ‘Dolly’ role in our lives. Thanks for a fifty-two year great run!
HELLO DOLLY will be at the Meadowvale Theatre until the 29th. See it and be sure to watch all the dance members in the chorus numbers; these are instances where the adage about the sum being greater etc. is fallacious – they’re all superb. The intricate costuming is also well worth the admission price!