Regional Reviews by Nancy Grossman

Hello, Dolly!

Also see Matthew's review of The Color Purple

Rachel York
Hello, Rachel! Before the parade passes by, march yourself on over to the Robinson Theatre in Waltham to purchase tickets to the Reagle Players' big, brassy and colorful production of Hello, Dolly!, starring the luminous Broadway actress Rachel York. From the moment she glides onto the stage in a horse-drawn carriage, York is electrifying. Dressed in shades of orange from chapeau to toe, her Dolly Levi is a stunner who takes charge and has both the ensemble and the audience eating out of her hand from her first song to her last.

Hello, Dolly! is based on Thornton Wilder's 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, revised in 1954 as The Matchmaker, and was first produced on Broadway in 1964, winning ten Tony Awards, including Best Musical. This enduring and endearing show has had three Broadway revivals and a 1969 screen treatment that was nominated for seven Academy Awards. The Reagle Players' 41st summer season presents a Salute to Jerry Herman! and will offer Mame and La Cage aux Folles in July and August.

Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi is a widow who meddles in the lives of others, whether to make romantic matches, teach dancing or provide a variety of odd services in turn-of-the-20th-century Yonkers. Once she sets her cap for Horace Vandergelder, the action shifts to New York City where Dolly manipulates an ever-growing list of characters in order to achieve her goal. Horace's clerks Cornelius and Barnaby, the widow Mrs. Molloy and her shop girl Minnie Fay, and Horace's niece Ermengarde and her beau Ambrose, are all instruments that Dolly orchestrates to her advantage. The resulting cacophony produces laughs, love and, ultimately, beautiful music.

To label Rachel York an actress who sings would be to diminish her considerable vocal talents, but her first accomplishment is to successfully interpret the leading role in her unique style, removing the specters of the icons who have brought fame to Dolly. I saw snippets of Marilyn Monroe, Lucy Ricardo and Mae West, but nary a sign of Channing, Merman or Streisand in York 's rendition. She has innate comedic chops and shifts easily from silly to scheming to outrageous. One memorable scene requires her to mime her way through a meal and, on opening night, she smoothly ad-libbed a bit when the props were not totally cooperative.

York shines in all of her musical numbers, but I'll mention two as examples of her range. She is saucy and sassy in "So Long, Dearie" as Dolly bids adieu to Horace, grabbing his hat and cane prior to strutting out on the catwalk in front of the curtain. By contrast, her moving version of "Love, Look In My Window," a song written for Ethel Merman's turn as Dolly, shows us the woman's wounded heart before she steels herself again and, with a look of wonder and conviction, boldly marches on ("Before the Parade Passes By").

Broadway veteran Jamie Ross (Horace Vandergelder) matches York step for step as the cranky curmudgeon whom Dolly is trying to marry off. Once she decides to keep him for herself, the two play a hilarious game of cat-and-mouse. His blustery exterior hides his inner softie, and Ross surprises with a sweet, mellow delivery of his final song. As Horace's intended (before Dolly changes her mind), Sarah Pfisterer is a natural beauty with a relaxed stage presence and a crystalline voice. She blends magically with the silver-throated Rick Hilsabeck in one of Jerry Herman's finest tunes, "It Only Takes a Moment." Hilsabeck's Cornelius and his sidekick Barnaby (Sean McLaughlin) provide their share of comic antics, and Danielle Naugler makes for a delightful chatterbox Minnie Fay. Sarah Landry gets lots of laughs out of her one-note character Ermengarde, and Angela Richardson makes a big splash as Ernestina.

Director Worth Howe, Choreographer Susan M. Chebookjian and Musical Co-Directors Dan Rodriguez and Jeffrey P. Leonard lovingly create a vivid and vibrant musical production worthy of the storied pedigree of Hello, Dolly!. With nearly two dozen songs, they have their work cut out for them, but the dancing and singing ensembles are infectious with their fresh-faced energy and amazing skills. Many of these "kids" are students, but most have prior credits at Reagle and elsewhere. They truly get to show off their voices in "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" in act one, and no one misses a step in the exhilarating "Waiters' Gallop" in act two that includes tumbling, tray-balancing and other mile-a-minute shenanigans.

In addition to Chebookjian's recreation of the original Gower Champion choreography, the production is blessed with both original Broadway scenery and original Broadway costumes. Yonkers and New York City are suggested by curtain drops for the most part, but Vandergelder's Hay and Feed, Mrs. Molloy's hat shop, and the Harmonia Gardens restaurant are three-dimensional with suitable props to bring them to life. A train whistling and blowing real steam transports everyone from Yonkers to New York, and the aforementioned horse-drawn carriage boasts an equine of regal stature with lovely ladies' legs. The costumes are colorful and evocative of the early 1900s, with lots of spats, hats, feathers and parasols. York rapidly changes outfits four or five times, but the red sequined gown for her entrance at the restaurant and her all-white ensemble for the curtain call are virtual eye-poppers.

Starting with the lush sounds of the overture played by the 19-piece orchestra, through the show-stopping delivery of the title song and all of the memorable musical moments in-between, this is an enchanting evening of theatre. Hello, Dolly! and the Jerry Herman score are established classics. They don't make 'em like this anymore, but Rachel York and the Reagle Players production add to the legend.

Hello, Dolly! Reagle Players, Robinson Theatre , 617 Lexington Street , Waltham , MA Performances June 25 through June 27 at 7:30 p.m. Box Office 781-891-5600 or Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman Book, Michael Stewart (based on The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder) Director, Worth Howe; Gower Champion's Original Choreography recreated by Susan M. Chebookjian; Original Broadway Scenery designed by Oliver Smith; Original Broadway Costumes designed by Freddy Wittop; Co-Musical Directors, Dan Rodriguez and Jeffrey P. Leonard; Conductor, Jeffrey P. Leonard; Lighting Design by David Wilson; Production Stage Manager, Karen Parlato

Cast (in order of appearance): Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi: Rachel York; Ernestina: Angela Richardson; Ambrose Kemper: Patrick Dillon Curry; Horace Vandergelder: Jamie Ross; Ermengarde: Sarah Landry; Cornelius Hackl: Rick Hilsabeck; Barnaby Tucker: Sean McLaughlin; Minnie Fay: Danielle Naugler; Irene Molloy: Sarah Pfisterer

Photo: Herb Philpott

- Nancy Grossman

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