Also see John Lariviere's review of Miklat
As a fan of the old school, I have the Pearl Bailey vinyl recording of Hello, Dolly! and the original with Carol Channing (with all due respect to Ms. Channing, I prefer the former due to its better vocals and orchestrations). Imagine my excitement upon hearing that the Broward Stage Door Theatre was putting on their own rendition of the Michael Stewart-Jerry Herman musical (based on Thorton Wilder's The Matchmaker). Stage Door usually hits the mark with their productions of standard classic musicals. Imagine my disappointment in finding out that the Coral Springs-based company has misfired on most counts.
I'm not comparing this version to the Carol Channing or Pearl Bailey of yesteryear, but at I'd at least like to have a Dolly! that has kick! This Dolly is only slightly above boring.
We all must know the story by now: set in the 1890s, Horace Vandergelder hires Dolly Gallagher Levi to set him up with an adequate female companion. He has set his sights on Irene Malloy, a hat store owner, as his intended. In addition to putting up with Dolly's quips, Vandergelder also has to deal with young workers Cornelius and Barnaby, while keeping artist Ambrose Kemper at arm's length from Vandergelder niece Ermengarde. What's a wealthy man to do? To top it all off, Vandergelder's matchmaker is setting him up with the perfect match: Dolly herself.
Dolly Levi has been widowed for a number of years. She wants to settle down again and be needed, so she pulls out all the stops to get Vandergelder's attention - even to the point of setting him up with a faux bachelorette, aptly named Ernestina Money, just to get his sights off of Irene Molloy. Molloy and her friend Minnie Fay get taken in with Cornelius and Barnaby, and that is where the fun is supposed to begin.
Unfortunatley, that fun never appears at the Stage Door. The ensemble is too tightly wound, still trying to learn their cadences and chemistry. Chrissi Ardito's choreography lacks spark and is so uninventive, it's farce. The ensemble are able dancers, but the pep is lost; they are just going through the motions here. Once again, Kathi E.B. Ellis is at the helm after directing an over-hyped West Side Story at the Stage Door's Wilton Manors complex earlier this year.
The chorus numbers are fine. Standouts are "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" and the title song. Musical Director Nathan Brown hones in on the cast's strengths as capable singers, and the background music blends well with the solo voices, but Nancy Clay's uneven sound design tunes the music in and out of the speakers.
Deerfield Beach-based Costume World has blessed the Stage Door with excellent turn-of-the century garb. Resident set designer Sean McClelland has built a fine Yonkers skyline with clever additions, including a basement door for Cornelius and Barnaby to pop out of in their hay store setting. McClelland also creates a New York scene with tall buildings, plus a marvelous sight of Harmonia Gardens, Dolly's old haunt. This would be a good challenge for a choreographer to come up with something masterful, but Chrissi Ardito does not succeed. Her dances call for waiters to hop like jumping beans, with no meaning.
The cast is also a mixed bag, with sparks of greatness weighed down by low-key performances. Kerry Sensenbach is a blustery Horace Vandergelder, like an early Donald Trump. He is serious in business and clueless in love. Sensenbach also scores points in keeping "It Takes a Woman" on key.
While Brance Cornelius is leading man material as Cornelius (imagine that, Cornelius as Cornelius), Tyler Fish overshadows him a bit as lovable kook Barnaby. If he keeps this up, Fish will be a dominant scene stealer in his prime. On the other hand, Kathleen Clancy is a bland Irene Molloy. She doesn't seem to click into Irene's charm and grace. Irene has to be the essence of femininity, and Clancy isn't working it. As sidekick Minnie Fay, Cecily Ellis is just camouflaged scenery.
Jodi-Lynne Sylvester just doesn't deliver the goods as Dolly Levi. She has the cunning and charm of a fox, but her singing voice doesn't match. Acting as Dolly is one thing, but if the actress don't have the pipes to follow through, it's useless. Sylvester talks through most of the numbers, including "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" and "Dancing." Even on "Love, Look In My Window," it seems Sylvester hasn't found her correct key. Her vocals are so nasal, it's not only annoying, but downright embarrassing. The actor in this role has to show Dolly is smart, cunning and coy. Sylvester has stage presence, but she'd be better off in another Jerry Herman chestnut about charming the husk off the corn.
This Stage Door version of Hello, Dolly! will make you yearn for your Broadway recordings, CD or otherwise. I'm about to go and listen to Pearl right now.
Hello, Dolly! will play at the Stage Door until January 2, 2005 at their main venue, 8036 W. Sample Road in Coral Springs. For tickets, please call (954) 344-7765 or visit their website, www.stagedoortheatre.com.
BROWARD STAGE DOOR THEATRE - Hello, Dolly!
Featuring Jodi-Lynne Sylvester, Kerry Sensenbach, Brance Cornelius
Ensemble: Justin Barnette, Tina Lilly, Alex Danyluk, Jessie Alagna
Musical Direction: Nathan W. Brown
Set Design: Sean McClelland
Directed by Kathi E.B. Ellis
-- Kevin Johnson