Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hello, Dolly! at Ford's Theatre

Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi works her matchmaking magic to utterly delightful results at Washington D.C.'s Ford's Theatre.  A joint production with Arlington, Virginia's Signature Theatre, this production which uses only sixteen cast members brings forth the energy of the more traditional sized productions of this show.  Director Eric Schaeffer brings larger-than-life, yet very human performances out of his cast.  While some of the staging may not truly show the opulence of 1890's New York City, the faults of this production are few and far between.

The musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker will always be indelibly stamped with the memories of original director and choreographer Gower Champion's spectacular stagecraft and the performance of Carol Channing as Dolly, one of the most iconic theatrical performances of all time. The Ford's Theatre revival finds ways to scale the production to fit the intimate Ford's Theatre stage yet retain the heart of the show that many an audience member will remember throughout its decades-long history of  on professional stages, amateur stages and film.

In 1890's Yonkers, New York, Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi makes a living matchmaking for the well-to-do. She has been hired to find a suitable bride for half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder. While plotting to steer Mr. Vandergelder to the perfect mate, Mrs. Levi aids several other couples, including Mr. Vandergelder's love-struck niece, Ermengarde and her beloved Ambrose Kemper. Mr. Vandergelder's clerks, the long-suffering Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker decide to defy orders and follow Mr. Vandergelder to New York City where they hope to find adventure and kiss a girl. Through twists and turns everyone ends up at the elegant Harmonia Gardens restaurant and eventually to a happily-ever-after for all.

Choreographer Karma Camp works miracles with her dancing ensemble of six, yes, only six dancers. Those six, four men and two women, manage to fill every inch of the stage with rousing energetic support to the lively, well-cast principal players. The highlight of the show is the Waiters' Galop, that frenzied number set at the elegant Harmonia Gardens that serves as a warm-up to the title song. If there is any disappointment in this production it comes in the set design for the Harmonia Gardens, that just does not convey any sense of magical opulence.  The title tune also suffers from a lack of true grandeur, the one time that one wishes it were a cast of thirty or more to dazzle the senses.

There are memorable performances from everyone down to Stephen F. Schmidt as the strict maitre-d Rudolph and Maria Egler's slightly vulgar Ernestina. Carolyn Cole makes whining an artform as Ermengarde and Ben Lurye is charming as Ambrose Kemper. Lauren Williams is cute with proper wide-eyed wonderment as Minnie Fay, well partnered by the equally young and slightly naive Zack Colonna as Barnaby Tucker. Gregory Maheu is the older Cornelis Hackl bursting with his first taste of freedom from his years toiling as a clerk. Tracy Lynn Olivera is worldly and wise as the independent widow, Irene Molloy.  Edward Gero is appropriately gruff as a fierce teddy bear as Dolly's prize match, Horace Vandergelder.

Nancy Opel's Dolly Gallagher Levi is reminiscent of the Dolly from the original play, The Matchmaker. She is charming, scheming and has the audience eating out of her hand from her first entrance. Whether she is seeking advice from her beloved lost husband, Ephraim or manipulating her darling Horace Vandergelder into doing exactly as she wishes Ms. Opel is constantly in control. She is poignant singing When The Parade Passes By and the diva of center stage in the title tune. Ms. Opel is plain and simple a marvelous Dolly.

Hello, Dolly! a joint production between Ford's Theatre and Signature Theatre is being performed at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC through May 18, 2013. For tickets and other performance information, please visit

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