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Review: HELLO, DOLLY! is a Sophisticated Show-Stopper at Plummer Auditorium

As an iconic American stage musical, Hello, Dolly! has seen a plethora of production, with each troupe jockeying to stand out - especially when it comes to its leading lady. Going up against the public's memory of Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey and La Streisand (and before that, Broadway's first Dolly, Tony-award nominee Ruth Gordon), can be a stiff bill to fill. Director Ken Sawyer cemented his show's success when he cast Valerie Perri as the wily matchmaker, however, and backed her up with a host of exceptional players.

Perri, who burst onto the stage in Broadway's Evita, shines as Dolly, her voice crisp and broad, carrying the Jerry Herman award-winning score like a deftly-gifted songbird. Her comedic timing is on point, and Perri moves across the stage in complete command. As Dolly's theoretical rival, Irene Molloy, Afton Quest is a perfect counterpoint, offering an energetic, independent woman who, while not yet possessing Dolly's wisdom and cunning, is certainly following in her footsteps and prepared to settle for nothing less than her heart's desire. Quest's vocals are equally strong and ornate, and her nuanced comedy sparkles. As the third single lady of the hopeful trio, Grace Yoo holds her own as Minnie Fay, making the sprightly cynic pop out from the mélange at just the right moments.

This is certainly a ladies' show, but don't tell that to Robert Yacko, who micro-mines every inch of the grumbling Horace Vandergelder with great success. Creating a sympathetic underbelly in this wholly unlikeable sourpuss gives him the win, and makes his sudden transition from Dolly critic into suitor a credible about-face. Likewise, Gary Patent transforms wispy clerk Cornelius Hack into an admirable beau, and Patent's courtroom duet with Quest is a gorgeous piece of harmonizing, highlighting both actors' wealth of talent.

Director Sawyer wastes no inch of stage with his players - a staggeringly large group - gliding them along in perfect synchronization and with astute imagination. The "Waiter's Gallop," in which a gaggle of dapper young men prance, strut, and fly across the stage, is particularly inspiring, thanks to choreographer Leslie Stevens, and is the ideal build to the smooth and sophisticated introduction of the famous title song, gloriously performed by Perri. Props are also due for the hilarious "Elegance," a tumble of true vaudevillian fare that opens the second act with a charming bang.

The players are not the only stars, however. A great deal of the show's success comes from its stunning presentation. Set designer John Iacovelli's "dollhouse" vision is not only a technical marvel, but a visual delight, and lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier creates sumptuous layers of color, painting the optics into a lavish turn-of-the-century artwork. Meticulously crafted costumes by Jessica Kuhns and Alexandra Johnson, and wigs by Peter Herman complete this A-grade 3-D Theatricals production.

Hello, Dolly! completed its run at Fullerton's elegant Plummer Auditorium last weekend, but pops into the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center for four performances starting August 5. Don't let this slice of summer heaven pass you by.

Photo credit: Isaac James Creative

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