Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Patrick's review of A Doll's House, Part 2
But the longest-standing tradition in al fresco is the venerable Mountain Play Association, which has been producing theatre in the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre since 1913. Each year, the Association chooses a musical and gives it a staging that befits their stunning locale 2000 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais. After a two-year pandemic-enforced hiatus, the Mountain Play is back–and they could hardly have chosen a more fitting, delightful, entertaining show than Jerry Herman's classic Hello, Dolly!
If you've never ventured up the mountain to the wooded hollow where, in 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps added rustic stone-seating for 4000 in the natural amphitheatre, make this the year you make the trek. You will be rewarded with a stellar production with two terrific lead performances and an energetic chorus singing Herman's wondrous songs and dancing with joyous verve to the choreography of Zoë Swenson-Graham.
Hello, Dolly! has, since its very first production, been reliant on its star. If the producers can't find a actor with both the vocal and comic chops to inhabit the role of uber-yenta Dolly Levi, they might as well close the curtain before opening night. Some of Broadway's greatest performers have made their mark on the role, including Mary Martin, Pearl Bailey, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand (in the film version), and, of course, the original, the peerless, the icon–Carol Channing.
Those are some clown-size shoes to fill, but Dyan McBride manages to pull off the nearly impossible: take an iconic role and make it her own. Her Dolly won't make you forget any of those earlier performances–but she will make you remember hers. Her lovely mezzo-soprano melds with Herman's music as firmly as any mortise-and-tenon joint created by a master carpenter. When she belts out the act one closing number, "Before the Parade Passes By," you will want to march right along with her.
Dolly is a matchmaker extraordinaire, " ... a woman who arranges things / Like furniture and daffodils and lives." She has an almost Mary Poppins-like air about her: when she presents her business card, it magically matches that person's needs precisely: "33-year-old chief clerks taught how to dance," for instance. Her goal in the show is straightforward: to help the other characters find love and to secure the hand of rich widower Horace Vandergelder for herself.
As Horace Vandergelder, Randy Nazarian is every bit the equal of McBride, and their chemistry and comic timing are always right in tune with each other. Vandergelder, the famous "half-a-millionaire" of Yonkers has his sights set on a rich Manhattanite to be his second wife. Dolly has another path in mind for him, but it will take until the finale before she convinces Vandergelder to follow it. "It's no use arguing," she will say, "I've made up your mind." Nazarian is wonderfully curmudgeonly as Vandergelder, and his performance of the very non-woke "It Takes a Woman" is a highlight of act one. Vandergelder is like a man sliding down an icy slope–no matter how he claws at the frozen surface, his destination is foreordained.
The supporting cast play quite nicely with these two powerhouses. Chachi Delgado brings us an impish, persuasive Cornelius (the aforementioned chief clerk in Vandergelder's hay and feed store), who wheedles his much younger colleague Barnaby (Zachary Frangos) into playing hooky from work and finding an adventure in New York City. Delgado and Frangos bring an impulsive sort of energy to their roles, but keep your eyes on Delgado during the dance numbers–his footwork, precision, and explosive dynamism are a joy to behold. Jill Jacobs plays Ermengarde (Vandergelder's niece) and laps up the role (which requires almost constant tears) like a cat to a saucer of cream.
Hello, Dolly! is a theatrelover's delight: romantic, far-fetched, silly, overly-reliant on coincidence–yet undeniably charming and smile inducing. Add in a 20-piece orchestra (led by David Möschler) and colorful costuming (by Mishka Navarre) and you've got the recipe for a glorious day on (usually) sunny Mt. Tam.
Mountain Play Association's Hello, Dolly! runs through June 19, 2022, at Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Guidance for driving, hiking (to or from), or shuttle bussing to the venue (as well as ticket information) is available at www.mountainplay.org. Follow their directions carefully to ensure an enjoyable experience. Sunday clothes not required, but do dress in layers, as conditions can change quickly. And though the MPA doesn't suggest bringing binoculars or opera glasses, I do. General admission tickets are $45 for adults, $40 for seniors (65+), $25 for those 4-25. A limited number of premium tickets (including padded stadium chairs) for reserved seating in a shaded area range from $75-$185.