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BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY! At the Kennedy Center Opera House - A Little Bit of Nostalgia

BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY! At the Kennedy Center Opera House - A Little Bit of Nostalgia

I had never seen a professional production of HELLO, DOLLY! until now. I recall the 1969 film with Walter Matthau and Barbra Streisand. I did see the play it is based on, THE MATCHMAKER by Thornton Wilder at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and really did not enjoy it.

It was 1964 when Carol Channing (who just passed away) originated the memorable star turn as Dolly Levi. Then Mary Martin, Pearl Bailey and most recently Bette Midler got a Tony Award for her take on the role on Broadway played the role followed by Bernadette Peters and Donna Murphy.

But I was certainly looking forward to seeing this hit musical starring two actors that I have really enjoyed. I have followed Betty Buckley (72) since I saw her in her first Broadway show in 1969 playing Thomas Jefferson's wife in 1776. I'm sure I'm one of the few who enjoyed her in the 1998 musical TRIUMPH OF LOVE, (which had its World Premiere at Baltimore Center Stage and the last time she has been on Broadway). And I was fortunate to see her 1982 Tony-winning performance as "Grizabella" in CATS where she sang "Memory". And for those of a certain age will recall her role in the hit television show "Eight is Enough". Buckley leaves the tour in September replaced by Carolee Carmello.

I will never forget seeing Lewis J. Stadlen in his Tony-nominated role in CANDIDE at the Broadway Theatre where they removed the entire orchestra seating for benches and gave out free peanuts.

So I had high expectations for this HELLO, DOLLY! The centerpiece of HELLO, DOLLY! concerns Dolly Gallaher Levi , a widow for ten years and money is a major problem for a unmarried woman in 1880's in New York City. But Levi is quite the entrepeneur. She is a marriage broker, conducts music lessons, long-distance hauling, varicose-vein reduction and corset-reboning. She advertises with business cards for each of these.

She is hired by a Yonkers wealthy grain merchant, Horace Vandergelder, to find him a wife. Vandergelder is a stingy, mean-tempered misogynist. It's all about money. Vandergelder has it and Dolly wants and needs it so she surreptitiously decides to go after Vandergelder for herself.

Adding to the foolishness are two employees of Vandergelder, Cornelius Hackl (Nic Rouleau)and his sidekick Barnaby Tucker (Sean Burns seen locally in the Signature Theatre wonderful TITANIC). They sneek off from working for an adventurous escapade in New York City where they meet up with hat-maker Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming) and her assistant Minnie Fay (Kristen Hahn). The four of them get engaged in some shenanigans when they go for dinner at the most expensive restaurant in New York Harmonia Gardens. The problem is neither of the young men can afford it.

That's it in a nut shell.

Many of the comedic lines are sophomoric and cartoonish. For example, a waiter explains the menu of the fancy restaurant in French to a patron and his response is "I didn't know we were going to a Chinese restaurant". I felt like hitting a cymbal.

I was impressed that for a touring production, there was a huge steam-whistled train and a horse and buggy plus a cast of 34.

There are a plethera of hit songs: "Sunday Clothes", "Before the Parade Passes By", "It Only Takes a Moment" and of course the title song.

The huge ensemble work their butts off, are full of energy, and have great voices.

The 17 piece orchestra under the baton of Robert Billig sounded fabulous except I thought the overture was too sluggish.

I was surprised that Buckley's voice seemed strained and her lack of comedic experience showed.

Stadlin's beginning of Act II where he stands alone in front of the curtain and sings "Penny in May Pocket" was cut on Broadway and I understand why. Not a good way to begin Act II.

Jerry Zaks does a wonderful job as Director. There are colorful Costumes by Santo Loquasto which capture the era, lovely Lighting by Natasha Katz, and Sound Design by Scott Lehrer who must deal with the weak acoustics at the Opera House. Warren Carlyle did the Choreography in homage to Gower Champion who directed and choreographed the original Broadway production.

HELLO, DOLLY! Continues until July 7th at the Kennedy Center. For tickets, call 202-467-4600.

Coming to the Kennedy Center:

THE BAND'S VISIT July 9 to Aug. 4 in the Eisenhower Theater.

DISNEY'S ALADDIN July 18 to Sept. 7 in the Opera house.

Don't miss the great Tituss Burgess in concert with his band playing hits from the stage and screen on July 27!

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From This Author Charles Shubow