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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Vivid Talents on Parade in Village Theatre's Hello, Dolly!

Also see David's review of Pippin

Hello, Dolly!
Clockwise, from left: John Patrick Lowrie, Peggy O'Connell, Billie Wildrick and Casey Craig
Put on your Sunday clothes and dash on over to the Village Theatre, where a radiantly performed version of the sixties blockbuster musical Hello, Dolly! has taken up residence. The long running (2,844 performance) 1964 Michael Stewart/Jerry Herman adaptation of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker holds up as one of the best of its era, and offers a bevy of wonderful roles besides the ubiquitous meddler Dolly Gallagher Levi.

Director Steve Tompkins, who also has devised some lively and ebullient choreography for the production, fills the stage with vivid talents, uniformly well cast, dressed to the nines in Karen Ledger's dreamily attractive costumes. The familiar tale is centered around Dolly, a middle-aged widow who has her hands in everything from pairing up couples to dance instruction. She is not above manipulating a second marriage for herself to the gruff Yonkers half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, and in the course of one wild and romantic day, she has not only secured a proposal from him, but cannily engineered three other happy couplings as well. Hello, Dolly! was the first of Jerry Herman's so-called "Big Lady" musicals (Mame, Dear World and, yes, La Cage Aux Folles were the others), dominated by a force of nature female role, and requiring a force of nature performer.

Peggy O'Connell, who has been as missed by Seattle audiences as Dolly was missed by the wait-staff at the Harmonia Gardens, is as good a Dolly as one could ever hope to see. Her clowning (and certain speech inflections) may remind you of the original Dolly, Carol Channing. Her honey of a voice is closer to the film Dolly, Barbra Streisand, with a dash of London Dolly, Mary Martin, thrown in. O'Connell's take on Dolly made me think of what the late great Madeline Kahn might have done with the role, but all of these comparisons, complimentary as I intend them, are only my way of expressing what a gem of a job she does. O'Connell can play it quietly touching yet with a twinkle in her eye, as she does in the monologue leading into her rousing act one closer, "Before the Parade Passes By." She conducts a full-on love fest as she personally relates to every waiter onstage in the show-stopping title song, and then breaks the fourth wall with gusto, greeting the patrons in the front rows of the house. And she scores an effortless TKO with her final solo "So Long Dearie." It is a credit to John Patrick Lowrie's own stage presence and grumpy yet likable performance as Horace Vandergelder that the character registers strongly, both in his featured number "It Takes A Woman," and in his Harmonia Gardens face-off with Dolly, where he begins to realize it is futile to resist her.

The subplot featuring Horace's clerks gangly Cornelius (the sprightly Greg Allen) and Barnaby (the diminutively delicious Casey Craig) stumbling into romances with milliner Irene Molloy (the warmly affecting Billie Wildrick) and her assistant Minnie Fay (quirkily comic Shanna Marie Palmer) is so dominant in act one particularly, that at times Dolly herself can fade into the background a bit (though O'Connell makes sure we remember her). Wildrick, who was just a delicious Eileen in Wonderful Town is even more splendid here, with a palpable comfort level in playing the role, and just the kind of creamy vocal richness that can make Irene's yearning solo, "Ribbons Down My Back," play like the Broadway cousin of an art song. The foursome kick off act two with a happy, snappy performance of the show's most comic number "Elegance," and later Allen and Wildrick wax romantic with ease on the show's best known ballad, "It Only Takes A Moment."

With less stage time and more broadly drawn characters, there is good work from Greta Bloor and Mo Brady as Horace's whiny niece Ermengarde and her beau Ambrose, Bobbi Kotula in a typically zany turn as faux heiress Ernestina Money (her costume is a comic riot in itself), and Matt Wolfe tickling the funny bone as German headwaiter Rudolph.

The ensemble executes Tompkins' energetic, athletic turn-of-the-century style moves with aplomb. Though the number of dancers in the big "Dancing" number seem a bit on the skimpy side, there is real fun and some amazingly agile movement in the show's celebrated "Waiter's Gallop." The cast and orchestra sounded super, under musical director Bruce Monroe's customarily accomplished guidance.

Bill Forrester's uncluttered and evocative set design transitions

Comfortably between its Yonkers and NYC settings, the Harmonia Gardens set is the expected showpiece of the production. Greg Sullivan's lighting design creates the perfect moods throughout. The show is paced so well that one can scarcely believe it's been nearly 2 hours when the curtain rings down.

This season closer for Village Theatre seems a sure-bet for drawing large, appreciative audiences. And to paraphrase Jerry Herman, regarding the show's star, "Peggy, don't ever go away again." Seattle needs you.

Hello, Dolly! runs through June 25, 2006 at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, and June 30-July 16 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue, Everett. For more information got to www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David-Edward Hughes



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