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Cincinnati by Scott Cain


Hello, Dolly!

Also see Scott's recent review of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

A good dinner theater experience combines delicious food with quality live entertainment. For decades, La Comedia Dinner Theatre in southwest Ohio has provided such a mix. Currently accompanying their tasty buffet (served on the stage that will soon be used in performance) is a smart and enjoyable production of the classic musical Hello, Dolly!.

Hello, Dolly! is, of course, the tale of the widowed Dolly Gallagher Levi, a hired matchmaker who also has plans to find a new mate for herself. Her affections are targeted to the "half-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder. While setting her plans in motion, Dolly also tries to think of a way to convince Mr. Vandergelder to allow the marriage of his young niece Ermendgarde to the cautious Ambrose Kemper. She also manages to find time to foster romances between Vandergelder's two shop clerks, Cornelius and Barnaby, and hat shop owner Irene Molloy and her young assistant Minnie Fay. Dolly uses her varied skills, a little deception and blackmail, and her womanly ways to find a love and a happy ending for everyone, including herself.

The selection of the right actress to play the title character is of vital importance for any production of Hello, Dolly!, and La Comedia has done very well with its choice of Gwendolyn Jones as its lead. Ms. Jones has a number of national tour and New York credits and is a perfect fit for Dolly. She recalls memories of Ethel Merman at times, and has a big, brassy personality (and voice) that captures the essence of the role appropriately. Ms. Jones is equally effective in producing hearty laughs, as she does with "I Put My Hand In", and in tugging at the audience's heartstrings during numbers such as "Before the Parade Passes By". The supporting actors all sing and dance well, and also deliver many humorous lines with great success. Nancy Anderson (Irene Molloy), Paul Andolsek (Cornelius Hackl), Katie Ann Richardson (Minnie Fay), Christopher Noffke (Barnaby Tucker), and Bobb James (Horace Vandergelder) all deserve praise for their fine efforts. The spirited chorus members were sometimes not quite together both vocally and in movement, but should achieve the desired results after a few more performances.

The famous score by Jerry Herman is filled with fun, melodic songs that are always pleasing to the ear. Michael Stewart's book is simple, yet well written and full of comedic gems. Art Yelton serves as both Director and Musical Director and guides his troupe effectively each step of the way. The choreography, as provided by Keith Cromwell, is visually stunning, often inventive, and always appropriate. La Comedia has unfortunately chosen to use a pre-recorded musical accompaniment. Besides robbing the audience of the irreplaceable sound of a live orchestra, the tracks are also generally bland and timing problems between it and the performers occurred in several instances. Cost and space limitations may have provided no other choice to the dinner theater, but the experience of hearing live musicians is still missed.

The set design by Matthew J. Evans uses professional looking sets for some scenes (including the requisite staircase for the title song), as well as scrims, projections, and backdrops of nostalgic photographs that capture the flavor of the period quite well. A.T. Jones provides attractive and colorful costumes as well.

Hello Dolly! is the type of old-fashioned musical that is well suited to dinner theater. La Comedia has created a fine production with lots of laughs and a fine cast, especially Gwendolyn Jones as matchmaker Dolly Levi. The show continues through May 13, 2001 and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.

-- Scott Cain


Also see the current Cincinnati Area Theatre Schedule



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