Hello, Dolly!, book by Michael Stewart, based on the play, "The Matchmaker" by Thornton Wilder. Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman. Directed by John Saunders. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Monica M. Wemitt as Dolly Gallagher Levi; Gabe Belyeu as Rudolph; pohoto: Neal Kowalsky
"Oh, Ephraim. . .a sign, today, please."
Dan Macke, Ryan Michael Owens, Brian D. Wagner; photo: Neal Kowalsky
It's been eleven years since the Mac-Haydn staged "Hello, Dolly!" Back in 2006 the title role was played by Monica M. Wemitt who is back on stage in the leading role once again. Back then I lauded her acting and found fault with her singing. This time around everything is in its place and her performance is a wonder. She brings the Manhattan manipulator to life and as silly as Dolly can be, the perfect employee for every instance, the perfect provider for every need, in Wemitt's hands there is a clarity and reality to her abilities that leaves us breathless imagining what she might accomplish in a single day.
In this show, during that time, Dolly creates four marriages, teaches men with two left feet to dance romantically, corrupts two women, breaks off an engagement, shows men how to be men, reorganizes a business, defends a group of people in court and so much more. She sings, dances, wears day dresses and gowns, is serenaded by high-speed juggling waiters and, in turn, flirts with all of them. she also eats a massive meal on stage. And Wemitt makes her charming, fascinating, a bit frightening, and so very endearing. If "Hello, Dolly!" was a one-woman show I do believe that Monica Wemitt could sustain our interest for more than two hours. Lucky for her, though, this is a large company musical and on stage at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, NY the space is filled with people a lot of the time.
Among them is Brian D. Wagner as Horace Vendergelder, a merchant in Yonkers whose need for a wife inspires all sorts of ideas, professional and otherwise, in Dolly. Wagner does curmedgeon well, although he could be gruffer, more an American Scrooge than he is, but he does all right and when Horace begins to experience the Levi power-of-change he softens slowly but surely into the man Dolly wants him to be. Wagner handles his character's song well, though not with the musical qualities that could make it into a show-stopper.
As the boss to Cornelius Hackl (Ryan Michael Owens) and Barnaby Tucker (Dan Macke) he is appropriately strict and mean and they both react as they should until that moment of Levi inspired action takes these two soft-hearted men on a journey of a lifetime. Owens is sweet as can be in this role and he makes the most of his height, his slender frame and his musical passion to create a very likeable and enjoyable character out of Cornelius. His final song in Act Two moved tears from eyes with its beauty. Macke is cherubic, but could have gone moreso though his charm counted for much. They were an excellent pair of romantics.
Monica M. Wemitt, "Before the Parade Passes By"; photo: Neal Kowalsky
Four women play important parts of this show and keep the men on their toes and Dolly on her worst behavior. As Horace's wayward niece Ermengarde, Catherine Skojec is silly, romantic, funny and a mean dancer. As Minnie Fay, assistant to the romantic lead, Steffany Pratt delivers nicely in her role: screaming, fainting, singing and dancing. Her friend and companion, and the other half of the romantic duet with Cornelius, Mrs. Irene Malloy, was played by Rachel Rhodes-Devey who delivered a delectable performance. She acts the role with sensitivity and strength and she sings with a beautiful tone, an occasional vibrato added for effect. Rhodes-Devey makes it impossible not fall in love with Irene. Her beauty and hre grace under fire separate her from the rest and this actress uses that element of the character to enhance her performance in every way.
In the comic role of Ernestine Money, actress Meg Dooley refreshes the role with her unusual physicality of the part. In doing so she becomes more than merely a clown; she becomes a highly desperate individual doing her part in a plot not of her own devising. Dooley takes on this role with gusto and it is a pleasure to watch her deliver the crazy woman to the stage. She makes it very clear very quickly that for Ernestine "all the world's a stage."
Likewise Gabe Belyeu makes headwaiter Rudolph into a parody of Erich Von Stroheim roles in the early twenties movies. Both he and Dooley blend themselves seamlessly into the larger ensemble when they are needed and such is their talent we never really notice them there for their principal characters fade away as the actors wish it to be.
Speaking of the ensemble, they deliver 6 and 8 part harmonies while dancing without seeming to miss a beat or flap an eyelash. Their sound, along with the band's sound, was lovely and made the show into a sonic delight.
Costumes designed by Bethany Marx were exquisite. The lighting by Andrew Gmoser was elegant and on target. Kevin Gleason's scenic design was all clean lines and correct spaces. The wigs were natural and lovely and Michael dunn and Timothy Williams are to be congratulated for that. Director John Saunders and his choreographer Sebastiani Romagnolo once again deliver a seamless physical production with only natural changes from dialogue to numbers and back again. Saunders, in fact, has guided his players into a pure zone, where everything is natural and real, nothing is exaggerated or awkward.
The result of having so much talent at work is an excellent show, funny and moving, musical and dramatic and funny again. This is a perfect "Dolly" and one not to be missed if at all possible.
Hello, Dolly! plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre.1925 Route 203, Chatham, NY through September 3. For information and tickets, call the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line to machaydntheatre.org.