A very talented cast is onstage at the Benedum, presenting a classic piece of musical theatre some 40-1/2 years after it began on Broadway. The original production of Hello, Dolly! (music/lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Michael Stewart) was a huge hit in the 1960s, running for 2844 performances over a six-year year run, and winning 10 Tony Awards. Carol Channing's iconic performance as Dolly Gallagher Levi is legendary. A film starring Barbra Streisand and stage revivals with Channing and Pearl Bailey, as well as numerous regional and school productions, have made this show one of the best known of the latter 20th century.
Dolly Levi is a matchmaker, a meddler, a Jacqueline of all trades. Most importantly, she settles her own heart as she lets go of the memory of her husband and moves on with her life - with half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, no less - just as she has helped many others move on with their own. This production is not a ground-breaking one, but a solid presentation with many perfect elements, and it builds in its impressiveness as the show progresses.
The CLO's Dolly, Victoria Clark, is already beloved after memorable performances as Ella Peterson in Bells Are Ringing (CLO's 2001 season) and Adelaide in last year's Guys and Dolls. A real charmer, Clark has an incredible knack for comedy and can touch your heart with affecting yet subtle characterizations. The larger than life Dolly fits less with Clark's acting style than the fourth wall-breaking widow Dolly, who implores her late husband to give her a sign that it's all right for her to pursue matrimonial happiness. But Clark's charm wins overall, and it's a pleasure to see her mine the comedy and bring her own vitality to therole. Clark scores with her little comic bits (a silly laugh, a variety of funny facial expressions, etc.), but most importantly, she doesn't overuse these bits. She also has a lovely singing voice and natural delivery, particularly in "Before the Parade Passes By." Her portrayal of Dolly may be less obvious than that of other actresses, but her endearing charm wins everyone over throughout the show.
As Dolly's somewhat flummoxed intended Steve Vinovich (Broadway's Loose Ends, The Magic Show, The Robber Bridegroom, and The Grand Tour) has a charm of his own as well as an excellent singing voice. His Vandergelder is so obstinate as he is pursued by Dolly, it's difficult to see the chemistry developing between the two, but it's clear that Dolly will make a success of the union and both characters will be happier together than they were alone.
Dolly's other match-ups include the widow Irene Molloy (Jacquelyn Piro, who is becoming a regular at the CLO) and naive Cornelius Hackl (Larry Raben, from the NY company of The Producers). Piro has yet another opportunity (after 1776 and last year's She Loves Me) to show her very strong and clear voice, particularly on the beautiful song, "Ribbons Down My Back." Raben is excellent as the awkward and almost childlike Hackl, in his comic acting as well as singing and dancing. Hackl's assistant, young Barnaby Tucker (Michael McGurk, who played the same role at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia), is also delightful, and the two innocents bring a spark to the show. Barnaby is paired up with widow Molloy's assistant, Minnie Fay, played by Katie Adams (Urinetown national tour). Adams gives a good comic performance as the very enthusiastic shop clerk.
Other standouts in the supporting cast are Terry Wickline as a faux date for Horace, Jeff Howell as the mouth-popping Rudolph the maitre d', and recent CMU grad Lexy Fridell in the very small part of whiny Ermengarde.
This production gives the dancing ensemble a chance to really shine. With choreography by Dan Mojica, the youthful group are enthusiastic and move very well together. The impressive athleticism and lively dancing of the men is showcased in particular when they portray the busy waiters in the scenes in the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant; at the performance viewed, the audience showed their appreciation with equal enthusiasm.
The costumes chosen for this production (from Broadway Bound Costumes and Dodger Costume Rental) are excellent, with some of the ladies' gowns being purposely outrageous and those for Dolly being perfectly stunning. Victoria Clark has numerous costume changes, and each gown is more resplendent than the one before, with the "Hello, Dolly!" entrance gown and the wedding gown in the finale being the most beautiful. Most importantly, all fit the actress perfectly and look like they were custom made for her. On the other hand, the extremely bright palette used in costuming the dancing couples is almost too much to bear.
As always, the CLO Orchestra, with Musical Coordinator Frank Ostrowski and Arranger James Drake, sound wonderful. One of the great treats of attending classic musicals at the CLO is hearing the orchestra's full, lush sound on such marvelous songs.
Hello, Dolly! continues at the Benedum Center through August 1. For schedule and ticket information, call 412.456.6666 or visit www.pittsburghclo.org.