Belmont University Musical Theatre's HELLO, DOLLY! Boasts An Embarrassment of Riches

Anna Dudley Is Confident and Commanding in the Title Role, But Henry Beddoe Takes the Cake

By: Nov. 18, 2023
Belmont University Musical Theatre's HELLO, DOLLY! Boasts An Embarrassment of Riches

Instantaneously, upon her very first arrival onstage, Anna Dudley is confident, committed and commanding in her performance as the eponymous leading character in Jerry Herman’s classic Broadway musical Hello, Dolly!, now onstage through Sunday in a sparkling production from Belmont University Musical Theatre at The Troutt Theatre. And it only takes a moment when musical director and conductor Jo Lynn Burks raises her baton and the first notes of the overture are heard to remember that Herman’s much-loved score includes a treasure trove of Broadway chestnuts, including “So Long, Dearie,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Elegance,” “It Only Takes A Moment,” my personal favorite “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” as well as the title tune, which is one of the most popular songs to ever be tracked on the Billboard charts

Belmont University Musical Theatre's HELLO, DOLLY! Boasts An Embarrassment of Riches But it is not until Henry Beddoe, cast as “chief clerk” Cornelius Hackl, pops up from his “office” in the basement of Horace Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed Store in Yonkers, New York, that the show really comes to life and the audience is treated to what remains even to this day – since its debut in 1964 – one of the most popular, most revered and most beloved Broadway musicals to ever come down the pike. With ample talent (He sings! He dances! He acts!), oversized stage presence (you cannot help but focus on him when he’s onstage), enough energy to power any number of small cities in upstate New York (and points westward) and the ability to sell a song like only the very best can do, Beddoe is winningly appealing, earnestly sincere and absolutely believable every second he’s onstage. With his sidekick Barnaby Tucker (played by the likable Christian Sandoval, who shows off his own laudable talents), Beddoe’s Cornelius sets off on an absolutely outlandish – but completely plausible – one-day adventure to New York City, determined to see P.T. Barnum’s stuffed whale, eat a good meal and kiss a girl for good measure.

Belmont University Musical Theatre's HELLO, DOLLY! Boasts An Embarrassment of Riches Clearly, composer/lyricist Herman, along with book writer Michael Stewart (with the able assistance of playwright Thornton Wilder’s 1954 play The Matchmaker as source material) struck gold when he created Hello, Dolly! By crafting a star vehicle for a cavalcade of quintessential theater divas (who find themselves in the company of supporting characters who are both lovable and irascible – not to mention totally unforgettable – and with a score that you can’t stop humming and a libretto that’s charmingly silly and daft, perhaps even a little goofy), Herman and company created a theatrical legend that continues to entertain and to delight. To be quite frank, Hello, Dolly! is a juggernaut of musical comedy and theatrical spectacle that, bathed in the golden glow of nostalgia and the fond recollection of times gone by (ah, the gilded age, how we love it!), has provided star-making material for countless young performers for generations, the most recent of which are now onstage at Belmont University in Nashville.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of American musical theater should be acutely aware of the story of Hello, Dolly! (which can be traced to Wilder’s 1938 play The Merchant of Yonkers): A strong-willed, independent woman named Dolly Gallagher Levi (played by the luminous Dudley, who shares the double-cast role with the equally talented, star-to-be Dani Kucera) travels to Yonkers to help well-known half-a-millionaire, the miserly and misogynistic – and unmarried – Horace Vandergelder (portrayed with vigor on opening night by Dylan James, who alternates with scene-stealing Bradley Parrish, part of the opening night ensemble, in the role of the tight-fisted fussbudget Horace) – to find a second wife. There are candidates aplenty (half-a-millionaires are nothing to sneeze at, even during the times of the robber barons, the Astors and the Vanderbilts), but Dolly deems herself his perfect match and for the next two-and-a-half hours, audiences are treated to her machinations and manipulations that inevitably will ensure that by show’s end that she does, indeed, add “Vandergelder” to her monogram. In the meantime, we’re introduced to all sorts of interesting sorts who allow her to work her matchmaking magic (and other considerable attributes – Dolly can do anything and actually has the business cards to prove it!) to their advantage, taking a circuitous route to that bright shining moment when Horace proclaims his love for his leading lady. 

Belmont University Musical Theatre's HELLO, DOLLY! Boasts An Embarrassment of Riches Dudley and James are well-matched as the musical’s central characters: she’s a fast-talking charmer who can talk to anyone about anything, while he’s a gruff-spoken man’s man (who’s actually an old softy) and although the two actors are far younger than their stage counterparts, they create a believable – and eminently watchable – couple. Even if you know from the beginning how the story ends, Dudley and James make sure you’re cheering them on in their quest to find true love. Hello, Dolly! may indeed be the apotheosis of musical comedy, but we still consider ourselves lucky to watch love blossom in front of our very eyes.

Likewise, Beddoe’s Cornelius Hackl (he alternates in the role with Noah Henry, he of equal notoreity) is paired perfectly with Chelsea Pena’s lovely Irene Molloy (her extraordinarily lovely “Ribbons Down My Back” provides a respite amid the good humor of the rest of the score – Leah Spurlock takes on the role in the other cast) and the two create an authentic portrait of budding romance that comes to full fruition in the heartfelt “It Only Takes a Moment” late in Act Two. Ideally partnering Sandoval’s Barnaby (a role he shares with Hudson Blake) on his NYC adventure is the charming Miranda McCauley as innocent shopgirl Minnie Fay (also played by Payton Tabb).

Belmont University Musical Theatre's HELLO, DOLLY! Boasts An Embarrassment of Riches

On opening night, the roles of Ermengarde – Horace’s niece and ward who is prone to torrential showers of unyielding sobs – and her suitor, the artist Ambrose Kemper, are charmingly brought to life by Maddie Bain and Tad Williamson (while in the other cast, Grayson Stranko and Josh Fermin do the honors). At the Harmonia Gardens, Dolly Gallagher Levi’s favorite restaurant and erstwhile haunts, is where audiences may first encounter the gold-digging Ernestina Money (played gleefully on opening night by Delaney Carroll, who shares the showy role with Emma Teixeira), the maître d’hotel Ruolph Reisenweber played by the versatile Grant Weathington at every performance, along with Simon Elliott’s Stanley.

Belmont University Musical Theatre boasts any number of sublimely talented triple threats and it’s my guess that director David Shamburger could cast each role at least four times over and still have talent to spare, but instead everyone comes together to fill out the ensemble that will, no doubt, bowl you over with their showbiz smarts and outsized presence. To say BUMT boasts of an embarrassment of riches is an understatement, to be certain.

Anna Perry and Casey Hebbel share responsibilities as assistant directors and choreographers. The creative team’s collaboration guarantees a splendid evening of musical theater that moves along at a quick – and altogether fashionable and stylish – clip.

Music director Burks and her extraordinary orchestra deliver a beautiful musical program that the composer himself would love and appreciate and while every musical number is terrific, the large cast numbers are particularly emphatic and memorable. “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “Call on Dolly” are impressive and we’d be hard pressed to recall a better rendition of “Hello, Dolly!” from the vast repository of versions we’ve heard over the years.

Belmont University Musical Theatre's HELLO, DOLLY! Boasts An Embarrassment of Riches Scenic designer Will Butler creates the picture-perfect setting for all the adventures upon which the endearing characters embark, which is illuminated to perfection by lighting designer Richard Davis gorgeous work. Melissa K. Durmon’s costumes clothe the large cast in colorful period fashion, with special kudos to her for Dolly’s eye-popping scarlet gown that is the tradition for her return to the Harmonia Gardens – Dudley wears it well!

You may have seen multiple productions of Hello, Dolly! on stages all over the world, and you may contend you know the plot like the back of your hand, but it’s unlikely you’ve ever had more fun or enjoyed yourself more than you will with BUMT’s Hello, Dolly! Nothing, I assure you, will deter you from the full enjoyment of a thoroughly silly and slight, but completely engaging and evocative, musical diversion in which the ending is happy and the characters (and the people who play them) are even more so. 

Hello, Dolly! Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Book by Michael Stewart. Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. Directed by David Shamburger. Musical direction by Jo Lynn Burks. Choreographed and assistant directed by Anna Perry. Assistant directed and choreographed by Casey Hebbel. Presented by Belmont University Musical Theatre at The Troutt Theatre, Nashville. Through Sunday, November 19. For further details and/or ticket information, go to or call (615) 460-5503. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 20-minute intermission). 

photos by Payton Tabb

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