Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Hello, Dolly!
Sonoma Arts Live
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Patrick's reviews of Sweat, Oslo, and Red Scare on Sunset and Jeanie's reviews of Time Stands Still and Twelfth Night

ScharyPearl Fugitt, Danielle DeBow, Michael Scott
Wells, Lorenzo Alviso, Dani Innocenti Beem

Photo by Eric Chazankin
Hello, Dolly! (book by Michael Stewart, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman) has now been staged thousands of times the world over, including four Broadway revivals since its first outing in 1964, multiple touring productions, several West End productions, and countless regional and educational shows. The awards won is a list as long as your arm. The list of performers who have played Dolly is equally long, and reads like a Who's Who of female stars of stage and screen in any given decade, including Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Pearl Bailey, Betty Grable, Ethel Merman, Dorothy Lamour, Eve Arden, and Bette Midler, just to name a few. Now, you must add the name of Dani Innocenti Beem, who thoroughly deserves to be named in that stellar company for the absolutely terrific performance she gives in the title role of the show presented by Sonoma Arts Live.

Beem's adept comic skills, particularly her wise-cracking, dry humor, combined with her classic Broadway-style belt, add up to a brilliant portrayal of the iconic Dolly Levi, the widowed matchmaker from Yonkers. Happily, her star turn is ably supported by a talented and enthusiastic cast of seasoned locals who know how to strut their stuff and deliver first-class entertainment. A plethora of technical woes marred the opening, but the cast rose to the fray and pulled out all stops to earn a well-deserved standing ovation.

Surely you know the story. In turn-of-the-20th-century America, Dolly is hired by rich widower, Hay and Feed magnate Horace Vandergelder of Yonkers (Tim Setzer) to find wife #2, but Dolly hopes to engineer her own marriage to him. She conveys this intention to her dear departed husband Ephraim, asking him to understand and send her a sign. Her plot involves Horace's niece Ermengarde (Madison Lewis) and would-be fiancé Ambrose (Alex Corey), as well as Hay and Feed shop clerks Cornelius (Michael Scott Wells) and Barnaby (Lorenzo Alviso). They all head for New York, where Dolly sends the two young men to Irene Molloy's (Danielle DeBow), short-circuiting Vandergelder's intention to marry Irene.

Eventually, all converge in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, where Dolly is welcomed back, and her various schemes come to fruition. It's full of farce and sight gags, rife with male-female stereotypes befitting the era, but its central message of pursuing life and love to the fullest continues to delight audiences of all ages.

In addition to Beem's excellent Dolly, standouts in the cast include athletic and wide-eyed Wells as Cornelius, whose antics are exceeded only by his melodious baritone. DeBow shines as the lovely, feisty Irene, with her beautiful soprano. ScharyPearl Fugitt is suitably perky and giggly as Irene's assistant Minnie Fay, and pairs nicely with Alviso as Barnaby, who's delightful with his puppy-dog eyes and hapless expressions. Setzer lightly inhabits curmudgeonly Vandergelder, which makes his ending transition believable. In short, the entire ensemble does a fantastic job, with high-stepping choreography by Liz Andrews, marching, waltzing, doing cartwheels and pratfalls, and singing up a storm. It's a demanding show, and they all put forth boundless, cheerful energy to pull off a spirited tour de force.

If only the same could be said for the spectacle. Scenic design by Theo Bridant can only be described as functional, otherwise looking oddly faded, with heavy, awkward set pieces that hamper action and threaten to topple. Lighting by Courtney Johnson often leaves actors in half-shadow, seemingly unmatched to blocking. The lack of a follow spot in vocal numbers is problematic.

Music director Tina Lloyd Meals gets a good sound from her cast, but the choice to use canned music is less than successful, given the myriad technical difficulties. Jess Johnson's sound design might work if the crew can straighten out the cues and issues with the sound system that were too much in evidence opening night. Sad that the superb cast lacked better technical support for their first outing, but no doubt the issues will be remedied for the run. Fortunately, Janis Snyder's costumes show off the excellent efforts of her team, providing an appropriately bright palette and visual feast.

The ensemble makes it all worthwhile in a wonderful, satisfying and dizzying delight, and Beem's performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Hello, Dolly!, through October 21, 2018, at Sonoma Arts Live, Sonoma Community Center, 276 East Napa St, Sonoma CA. Tickets $25.00-$40.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 866-710-8942.