Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Taking the second point first, Dolly (the delightful Kay Love) gets one last little Thornton Wilder-type monolog just before the ending, where she declares that she will use her rich new husband's money to help people enjoy the "four or five simple human pleasures" that everyone is due, and that not having enough moneyor even having to much of itcan "shatter the world." Washington D.C., please take note.
Now back to that first point: don't these tremendously talented actors, from Dolly on down to the smallest speaking part, ever take a look behind themselves, at the pleasantly minimalistic set creaking along on over-burdened casters? If they do, it doesn't seem to bother them a lick. They're performing well above expectations, on a set that could almost suffice for Wilder's better-known play Our Town instead of The Matchmaker. It may be that director Alan Aguilar has cast such a spell over his performers, that they really believe they're in turn-of-the-century New York; or perhaps somewhere during the rehearsal process, they all reached such a critical mass of ingenuity and polish that they make us believe it, too.
There are one or two flaws, par for the course, really: choreographer Jim Kimker has simplified the waiters' "gallop," to accommodate all the non-dancers in the show (though there are a couple, including Mr. Kimker, with a surprise or two up their sleeves); and there are a few moments here or there, especially in act two, when the pleasant off-stage band goes a bit squiffy. But somehow it all comes out all right, thanks to all the unreasonably gifted actors on stage. Music director Mary Sutherland has also chosen to challenge this Dolly with the score's original keys, which are quite a bit higher than I (for one) remember them being. But Ms. Love sings those silvery high notes nearly all the way throughthough it's a little hard to imagine Carol Channing doing the same in those three years she played the part on Broadway, from 1964 to '67. Here, Ms. Love's billowing Brooklyn accent and banjo eyes, whenever anyone doubts her outlandish promises, will brook no insurrection.
Mike Van Allen is her sputtering, vituperative client, and he manages to do what very few actors ever can, by creating a credible arc of character for Horace Vandergelder, Yonkers' celebrated half-a-millionaire. Lewis J. Stadlen couldn't (or wasn't allowed to) do it at the Muny Opera a few years ago, and Walter Matthau couldn't quite manage it in the infamous film version, either. Von Allen's two employees, aiming for a spree, are excellent, too: Josh Cook and Gustavo Perez, as Cornelius and Barnaby, are filled with a contagious sense of joy and adventure and show great comic ability.
As the hat shop owner and her assistant, Christine Johnson and Chrissy Jones (a late addition to the cast) are equally great. The lovely and sigh-worthy Ms. Johnson deftly reaches right into our late-winter sweaters and smoothly yanks out our hearts in her scenes; and Ms. Jones is quite simply the funniest Minnie Faye I've ever seen, on any stage, anywhere, bar none. Every one of her asides goes off like a bomb, and she screws up her face like the "Chicken Lady" in TV's Kids In The Hall to hilarious effect.
Other fine work is done by Anne McGowan and Adam Thenhaus as the young lovers who start the ball rolling toward the big group wedding. Likewise, Erin O'Driscoll as Miss Money, Joe Wegesheide as the judge, and even the highly experienced and adept Michael Monsey as a dancing waiter and chorister, shine brightly. The women's costumes are remarkable, though Over Due Theatre is such a young company that they haven't acquired many lighting instruments yet, which diminishes the dramatic impact in several key moments.
Through March 22, 2009 at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive. For information, call (636) 328-6546, or visit them online at www.overduetheatre.com.
Orchestra: Banjo: Virginia Luetje
Photo: Augusta McGowan