It only takes a moment to fall in love, says Cornelius Hackl of Yonkers, New York. And at the Ford’s Theater and Signature Theatre co-production of Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! you too may find that it only takes a moment to fall in love with certain aspects of the production. Directed by Eric Schaeffer with Musical Direction by James Moore, this Jerry Herman musical classic is given a new approach as it takes to the stage this spring.
The most stunning thing about this reimagined production is the choreography. So hats off to Choreographer Karma Camp and her extremely talented line of ensemble dancers as they bring the most exhilarating moments to this production. Camp’s central focus lays on the big scene at Harmonia Gardens during Act II where some of the finest sashaying, twirling, tapping, and overall dancing occurs between six very vibrant ensemble members (Morgan Cowling, Harris Milgrim, Alex Puette, Jp Qualters, Kyle Vaughn, and Merrill West). With constant smiles and perfect synchronization the audience is treated to the delight of kicks and spins that captivates and is met with thunderous applause of approval. Camp’s overall work as choreographer shows the true nature of how bright and upbeat a production of this magnitude can be.
Musical Director James Moore coaxes a powerful sound from the ensemble, giving numbers like “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” an extra jolt of pizzazz. The male ensemble in particular has a warm rich sound for “It Takes A Woman,” and regardless of their placement on stage they’re always smiling. This musical thrives with the support from this enthusiastic ensemble, supporting voices never having a more important role than in this production. And Moore’s orchestra plays the popular Jerry Herman score with gusto and the result is heavenly!
Director Eric Schaeffer’s new approach to the classic musical leaves room for considerable doubt to the production’s success. With a very basic setting, designed by Adam Koch and bland costumes in a drab color scheme springing from the mind of Wade Laboissonniere, the approach of ‘back to basics’ comes to mind, attempting to rely on the pure vocal talents to let the songs stand on their own. Even Dolly’s signature dress in Harmonia Gardens is rather ordinary, looking pretty but not extravagant. Those familiar with the iconic musical expect the grandeur, and those unfamiliar might be disappointed like I was with the design. Also, It feels as if every character is trying to belt every number, which just doesn’t work for certain songs, and detracts from big numbers that are meant to have strong belts, like Dolly’s “Before The Parade Passes By.”
Nancy Opel (Dolly Levi) gives the most uneven performance of the evening. While belting with vigor in certain numbers, like “So Long, Dearie,” many of her other songs lack emotional depth. Although “Before The Parade Passes By” starts out somberly like it’s Dolly’s swan song, the latter half of “Before The Parade Passes By” does show her singing power and ability to rediscover her moxie. The major let down comes from the signature song, the title number, “Hello, Dolly!” as it drags without enthusiasm and just feels empty. Opel, however, is wonderful when fussing over Horace Vandergelder, her acting trumping her moments in song.
Playing the gruff and obstinate Vandergelder is Edward Gero, a vocal knockout, leaving you wishing that he had more songs to sing. Gero has a rich baritone that he executes with powerful precision during numbers like “It Takes A Woman.” He is deeply grounded in his character’s love of money and his cantankerous ways. Blustering and grumping about throughout the production, Gero gives a solid performance that the I and the audience thoroughly enjoyed.
The comedic duo of Barnaby (Zack Colonna) and Cornelius (Gregory Maheu) stays on par for the production by panning out just a little uneven. Colonna looks a little too old to be a convincing youth on the edge of being a man, or perhaps it’s just that there isn’t enough of a physical age difference between him and Maheu, a character meant to be a good 12 years his senior. What Colonna lacks in age appropriation he makes up for with his squeaky pitched voice, though his comic timing is often misplaced and slightly delayed. He plays well against Maheu and their comic shenanigans steal the scene during the ladies quartet of “Motherhood.”
Maheu has a stellar voice, ripe with emotion and finely tuned to belting out these various numbers in an almost operatic fashion. His warm vocal tones serenade sweet love during “It Only Takes A Moment,” a moving romantic duet with Irene Molloy. Maheu’s comic timing is much keener than his counterpart and during “Elegance” he pulls amusing facial expressions with equally silly body gestures to make the song as funny as the lyrics intend it to be. His natural flirty chemistry with Irene Molloy is both charming and quirky. Maheu gives a sensational performance and easily captures the hearts of the audience.
Tracy Lynn Olivera as Irene Molloy steals the show. With a gorgeous voice, perfect pitch, and strong emotions in her songs Olivera gives a stunning rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back” – easily the most successful song of the show. Her character maintains the perfect balance between matronly and edgy, and her interactions with the other characters simply feels natural. Her voice is easily recognizable during the quartet of “Elegance” and “Motherhood.” Olivera gives a performance well worth a standing ovation.
And keep your ears out for the sniveling hysterics of Ermengarde (Carolyn Cole). While only appearing briefly throughout the production, Cole becomes an inevitable scene stealer every time she starts whining. She makes the gimmick of over-the-top hysterics work to her comic advantage and gives the audience some much needed comic relief.
The ensemble, the choreography, the fantastic orchestra and orchestrations, and key performers make Hello Dolly! worth seeing, so be sure to put on your Sunday clothes and stroll down to Ford’s before this parade passes you by.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.
Hello, Dolly! plays through May 18, 2013 at Ford’s Theatre— 511 10th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 347-4833, or purchase them online.