BWW Review: Hale Center Theater Orem Parades an Energizing HELLO, DOLLY!
It's rare that producers are able to stage a major musical while it's playing on Broadway. While the brassy Bette Midler dominates the current New York City revival -- with headline-making $748 tickets (thanks to "dynamic pricing"), or $1,450 at resellers -- Hale Center Theater Orem was able to snag the rights to present the durable star showcase for Utah audiences.
The innovative HCTO takes a refreshing view of the statuesque piece of musical theater. HELLO, DOLLY! sparkles.
The out-of-this-world Carol Channing rocketed to stardom in the 1964 long-running premiere, and staggeringly continued in two successful Broadway revivals. Ethel Merman (for whom Jerry Herman composed the role), Ginger Rogers, Mary Martin, Dorothy Lamour, and Pearl Bailey were among those famously wearing the plumed headdress and opera-length gloves. And there's the Barbara Streisand-helmed 1969 film version. Director Gene Kelly and co-star Walter Matthau vowed to never again work with the controlling supernova who overpowered the role. (One film wag called the financially drowning adaptation "one big-assed bull in a china shop.")
Ashley Gardner Carlson understands the emotional drive behind the matchmaker character and relies on the material as written. She is a highly personable and naturally endearing Dolly. And completely charming. Her near-patter dialogue is crisp and clear. Each humorous line is thoughtfully delivered with warmth and light elegance, not as a stand-up comedian awaiting uproaring audience response.
Carlson makes a vivid connection with each stage partner -- and each theatergoer. With strong, lovely vocals, she joyfully explains her philosophy as a professional meddler in "I Put My Hand In," she is determined to live life fully again with "Before the Parade Passes By," and "So Long, Dearie" is truly touching.
Marcie Jacobsen alternates with Carlson, and after enjoying her turn as the title character in HCTO's DROWSY CHAPERONE, it would be a pleasure to see her skills applied to Dolly.
Also starring in this staging is the production design. Along with the relatable characterization of Dolly, HCTO invigorates HELLO, DOLLY! Don't look for the standard fire-engine red waiters' jackets in the Harmonia Gardens scene. Company costume designer MaryAnn Hill has brilliantly selected a eye-popping yellow that is striking and works perfectly. And I'll leave it as a surprise for the color she's selected for Dolly's gown, but it certainly dazzles. The scenic design by Bobby Swenson and Cole McClure of the restaurant's grand staircase on the Hale's small stage also surprisingly astonishes.
It should be noted that this reviewer blundered and unwittingly selected the first preview performance of four before the show's official opening, without details of the lighting and costuming finalized. But the skilled direction of David Morgan and Justin Bill's impressively proficient music direction were evident. Jennifer Hill-Barlow's choreography is high-stepping, high-energy and hyperkinetic that includes a nod to tradition.
David L. Walker (alternating with Shawn Lynn) is requisitely resolute as Horace Vanderglder. In the second banana roles of Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, David Matthew Smith's "It Only Takes a Moment" is sincere and heartfelt, and Peter Reid Lambert is a rambunctious delight; each is single-cast. Laurel Asay Lowe (alternating with Cecily Ellis-Bills) and Kenna Smith (alternating with Jaymie Lambson) as Irene Molloy and Minne Fay, respectively, are pleasing. The director's only misstep is his clowning choice of the Ermengarde and Ernestina portrayals. Not merely annoying, also at odds with the other relatable characterizations.
HELLO, DOLLY! doesn't rank with the elite of Broadway's finest shows, but HCTO's staging is entertaining and ebullient. Like the earworm title songs of Jerry Herman's other shows (that each could also carry the "!" in its title), with endlessly repeating lyrics, HELLO, DOLLY! reminds that he also wrote touching songs. Would that this staging could prompt a production of his lesser-known but highly engaging MACK & MABEL.