BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY at Palm Canyon Theatre

BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY at Palm Canyon Theatre

Palm Canyon Theatre has pulled off quite a coup by acquiring rights to Hello, Dolly, one of America's favorite musicals, while the revival is still packing houses on Broadway. In one year, we have had Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters (Bette's replacement), and now Se Layne all giving their take on the matchmaker of Yonkers at the turn of the 20th century.

Generally, the sets and costumes are mentioned in the last paragraph of a review, but I want to start with them because they were gorgeous. Set designer J. W. Layne created a turntable with four distinct quadrants which could be rotated to yield a street, a feed store, a hat shop, and a posh restaurant. The front of the turntable was almost at the proscenium line, so all the action was pushed forward onto the apron of the stage, which gave very effective intimacy.

Costumes were designed by Derik Shopinski (who also directed and choreographed the show!). They were lovely and transported us to the early 1900's. Especially noteworthy were the lavish dresses worn by Dolly, including the mandatory red gown and feathers for her second act entrance at the top of the stairs in the Harmonia Gardens. Se Layne looked gorgeous on those stairs!

Dolly's romantic target, Horace Vandergelder, is capably played by Donald Kelley. Despite his bluff and bravado, he eventually succumbs to her ploys, as we all knew he would.

One of the highlights of the evening was Ben Reece as Vandergelder's head clerk, Cornelius Hackl. His rendition of "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" carried composer Jerry Herman's Broadway style better than any other number in the show, and his comedy turns were a continuing delight. His counterpart, milliner Irene Molloy, was skillfully delivered by Jamie Leigh Walker. "Ribbons Down My Back" is the one song in the show written for an operatic voice, and she performs it beautifully. Cornelius's fellow worker and Irene's assistant are played by Mat Tucker and Allegra Angelo. They both seem to have boundless energy, broadly comedic faces, and they are both terrific dancers.

I was a little surprised that Anthony Nannini, a company regular who has played numerous leading roles, was cast as Rudy, the headwaiter at the Harmonia Gardens, but when I saw his performance, I understood director Shopinski's choice. With facial expressions and body language, Nannini manages to generate laughs with virtually every entrance, and he's one of those characters where we look forward to his next entrance, wondering what he's going to get up to next.

Palm Canyon Theatre has added many new members to their ensemble, and it seemed that over half the resumes in the program mentioned that Dolly was their first or second show. That was reflected in some tenuous entrances in the big choral numbers, but once they all got going, their sound was strong. At one point, musical director Steve Smith stood up next to the piano and directed the group through an acapella segment with tight harmonies. It was very effective.

The men's ensemble deserves top marks for their delivery of The Waiters' Gallop, a lengthy and exhausting dance number early in the second act. Dressed in purple formal waiter attire, they leap on stage, twirl, jump, and leap off carrying trays, plates, even shish kabobs. It was amazing to see such young men, many in their first or second musical, doing such intricate work. And of course, all of that movement is a preface to that moment we all were waiting for when they greet the return of one of their favorite customers by singing "Hello, Dolly." Layne's red dress looks terrific as she leads the waiters back and forth across the stage.

Derik Shopinski's direction keeps the action moving smoothly, delivering many laughs. Musical director Steve Smith accompanies the show with a live three piece band, a luxury not delivered by any other theatre company in the valley. The audience quickly rose to their feet at the end of the show the night I saw it, and I enjoyed eavesdropping on some very positive comments by audience members as they exited. This production of Hello, Dolly is creating a very happy buzz in its audiences.

Hello, Dolly has two more weekends at the Palm Canyon Theatre with Thursdays at 7, Fridays and Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 2:30. Tickets are available Mon - Sat at the box office, or online at PalmCanyonTheatre.org.

Photo by Paul Hayashi

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