BWW Review: HELLO, DOLLY! at 574 Theatre
To complete their summer 2019 season the 574 theatre presented Hello Dolly. This classic Golden Age musical follows Dolly Levi, a multi-talented widow who helps pair off eligible bachelors and bachelorettes in New York. The show's central plot involves her journey to getting herself engaged as well as several other side characters, creating a charming story that has been told in countless theatres across the nation.
The 'Overture' started after everyone had settled in their seats. The pit was refreshing just by the mere fact that it was in front of the stage in place of a music track. During the overture there seemed to be pitch issues, but that problem slowly faded throughout the show's progression. Overall, the pit was an enjoyable accompaniment to the actors singing voices.
The curtain opened to reveal the set, designed by Jon Sabo. It was seemingly simple yet whimsical and helped fuel a nostalgic tone with green and blue colors building a leveled staircase and platform. It included a trap door leading to fun gags such as Cornelius and Barnaby's first entrance together. It was enjoyable to gaze upon as the 'Overture' was being played.
During the 'Overture', there was a fun and lively dance sequence which fit the "Golden Age musical aesthetic" for lack of a better term. The choreography, done by Meghan Gilroy, varied in energy and scale. Numbers such as the 'Overture', 'Elegance', and 'The Waiter's Gallop' had choreography that perfectly encompassed the musical moments in the show. Not every musical number matched the presentation of the numbers listed previously, but the choreography at its best was visually pleasing and effective.
The ensemble also varied in energy. Some members had blank expressions while others were obviously giving their all to the numbers being performed. Another critique would be the mixing of the singing voices amongst the ensemble. In big musical numbers such as 'Put On Your Sunday Clothes,' it was common the audience would only hear one vocal part covering all the others.
These observations aren't to take away from the obvious hard work the ensemble invested. As a group they did have performance highlights such as cute character exchanges in 'I Put My Hand In' and the aforementioned 'Overture,' but one of the sweetest moments of the show was the ensemble slowly dissolving from the stage ringing out a beautiful end to 'It Only Takes a Moment.' Those were the instances the ensemble truly shone through in the show.
Another highlight was the many vibrant costuming by Sarah Hubbard. Each outfit stuck out on its own to the audience beautifully without ever stealing attention or distracting them, unless that is the intention, as was the case for Dolly's and Ernestina's dresses.
The many colorful costumes were also matched with many spirited performances. Hope Nozfiger as Ermengarde and Madison Meeron as Ernestina have small instances where they show-steal to make way for their obnoxiously funny bits.
In the performance I saw, Nick Rogers was understudying for Barnaby, and did a splendid job doing so. While Rogers didn't look seventeen, his naivete and dynamic optimism helped the audience buy into his blind teenage love with the character Millie played by Grace Thomas.
Thomas portrayed the quirky, fast-talking young women with such precision that the audience was almost always two steps behind everything she said. A perfect example was her discussion with Mrs. Malloy over whether Mrs. Malloy planned on getting married again. She sped through dialogue with hilarious delivery, leaving the pauses after she finished speaking to be followed by great amounts of laughter.
Mrs. Malloy, the hat shop owner, was played exceptionally by Maggie Youngblood. With poise and emotion, Youngblood shifted between deep intense longing to giddy chattering seamlessly. A perfect example is the song 'Ribbons Down My Back' which was one of the (if not the most) powerful musical moments in the show, displaying the character's longing for a partner and the willful flirtatiousness that would ensue because of it.
Through Dolly, Mrs. Malloy goes out on a date with Cornelius, the chief clerk at a shop owned by Horace Vandergelder. Cornelius is played by Eathan Bingaman who brings a great number of laughs through gags and interactions with Barnaby. His physical comedy takes a great amount of effort, and the energy was palpable. Bingaman seemed to take the awkward and funny approach throughout the show until 'It Only Takes a Moment.' This is a smart acting choice as it shows the character's change after finding love; however, I would've liked to see him approach the character with more charm and ease earlier on in the show in his interactions with Mrs. Malloy to help see how she develops feelings for him.
That being said, Bingaman and Youngblood do maintain a very convincing chemistry that matches that of the two leads: Steve Zebell as Horace Vandergelder and Melody Brandt as Dolly Levi, which is saying a lot. Zebell is simply sublime as Mr. Vandegelder. He plays an absolutely lovable scrooge-like character to perfection. His voice is great and he works off of every actor perfectly as both a comic foil and source.
Finally, there is Melody Brandt as Dolly. Brandt absolutely takes charge of the stage and the show by exceptionally acting through the role. Bringing a matter-of-fact demeanor to the character, Brandt has fun interactions with the whole cast by butting into their business with such delight and confidence that it is near impossible not to be allured by her performance.
While pitchy at times, Brandt was still able to effectively deliver musical phrases, and work off of partners through song in such a way that you completely disregard that she was originally cast as the understudy for Dolly. She feels so natural in the part, and again, carried the whole heart of the show on her shoulders.
Overall, while the 574 theatre's production of Hello Dolly had flaws, I would still recommend anyone to see it for its masterful performances and timeless feel. It will leave you with a nostalgic joy and heartwarming tale that is worth the ticket.
Hello, Dolly! continues performances through August 4th, 2019 at Bethel University's Everest Rohrer auditorium. Tickets are available online at www.574theatre.com, or by calling (674)-387-6475