Also see Fred's review of Oblivion
I was lucky enough to see that Carol Channing Broadway revival, and it will always remain one of the most moving and glorious theatrical experiences of my life. Even though the stage of the Goodspeed Opera House is quite small and could, therefore, never begin to approximate how vast and stunning a number like "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" was in Gower Champion's original staging, director Daniel Goldstein and his endlessly inventive choreographer Kelli Barclay consistently bring zest and old-fashioned verve to the Goodspeed production.
Of course, any Hello, Dolly! will rise or fall on the actress chosen to play the title character, and this production is extremely lucky to have Klea Blackhurst in the lead. Watching her take on this star part, the memories of Channing (and of Barbra Streisand from the film version) were quickly pushed to the back of my mind as Blackhurst made the character completely her own. She is well known for her Ethel Merman tribute show, Everything the Traffic Will Allow, and, indeed, she brings a lot of the brashness and powerhouse singing that Merman was famous for to the title role (and it should be mentioned here that Merman was the final actress to play Hello, Dolly! in the original production). However, throughout the show, Blackhurst also shows some of the lovable, rowdy traits and comedic gifts of another Broadway star, Kaye Ballard. Still, it must be stated that Klea Blackhurst is clearly her own woman and she is quite simply glorious.
Tony Sheldon is a nicely subdued and extremely funny Horace Vandergelder and partners Blackhurst perfectly. In the secondary female role of Irene Malloy, Ashley Brown (who originated the title role of Mary Poppins on Broadway) brings a lot of star power to the show and her gorgeous "Ribbons Down My Back" solo is a highlight. In the role of Cornelius Hackl, the lanky, charming Spencer Moses might remind one of a young Jimmy Stewart and he shines in the second act ballad, "It Only Takes a Moment." Jeremy Morse is a fine Barnaby and Catherine Blades an adorable Minnie Fay, and Brooke Shapiro steals scenes as the ever-crying Ermengarde.
When Blackhurst appears at the top of the stairs of Adrian W. Jones's versatile set, wearing the requisite red dress (designed by the talented costume designer Wade Laboissonniere) for the all-out, raise-the-roof title song, all is right with the world and the number is the requisite showstopper it must be, complete with dancing waiters and repeated choruses. What more can I say? The Goodspeed Opera House production of Hello, Dolly! is simply thrilling and deliriously enjoyable from beginning to end and is therefore a must for any theatergoer.
Hello, Dolly! continues at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, through September 14th, 2013. For tickets, visit www.goodspeed.org or call (860) 873-8668.