Also see Susan's review of The Mountaintop
Schaeffer is artistic director of Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, well known for its reimagining of overwhelming works (for two examples, Show Boat and Les Misérables) to fit comfortably in its intimate black box space. Hello, Dolly! is a co-production between Ford's and Signature, which allows more leeway by providing a larger auditorium with a traditional proscenium stage.
Rather than opening the show with an enthusiastic chorus, Schaeffer begins with a solo voice, then adds others, finally building to the arrival of the indomitable Dolly Gallagher Levi (Nancy Opel). The actress totally inhabits the part with her wry asides, her sweet surface that barely hides the deviousness beneath, and her clarion voice. She also looks glorious in Wade Laboissonniere's costumes, both an upholstered-looking daytime costume and a sleek, subtly detailed version of the iconic red "Dolly" evening dress.
Edward Gero, an accomplished performer in both classical and contemporary roles, barely breaks a sweat as curmudgeonly Horace Vandergelder. If anything, he isn't quite gruff enough as he chastises his clerks and attempts to face down Dolly. He, like everyone else, knows what's going to happen by the final curtain.
Other standouts are rich-voiced Tracy Lynn Olivera as milliner Irene Molloy, who soars with her version of "Ribbons Down My Back"; Gregory Maheu as the wide-eyed, gawky clerk Cornelius Hackl; and Carolyn Cole, shamelessly stealing her scenes as Vandergelder's overwrought niece Ermengarde. Also, the corps of dancing waiters is small but expert as it navigates Karma Camp's blend of acrobatic leaps and tapping.
Koch's set design starts out promisingthe look of an early 20th-century railroad station with dark stained paneling and a tall arched doorwaybut the need to make the single setting serve for a variety of locations becomes a problem. The moving set pieces are all based on luggage wagons loaded with crates and suitcases; they don't lend themselves to serving as the display shelves in Irene's shop or the dining room at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant.