Review: Hello, Dolly!

The cast of Hello, Dolly!                                                                                              Photo by KO Rinearson

By Larry Laneer
July 11, 2018

Attention fans of mid-twentieth-century book musicals (count me among them). If you haven’t heard, Hello, Dolly! is back in town in a limp production that looks like an opportunity missed.

With music and lyrics by the legendary Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart, the show is most associated with Carol Channing, who starred in the original Broadway production and played Dolly in Oklahoma City in a mid-1960s national tour. In fact, Channing performed in the same room where the show is running now. Recognizing this musical is worthy of regular revival, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma is putting it on at the Thelma Gaylord, directed by Ashley Wells.

It’s not that the production doesn’t try. Take Jeffrey Meek’s sumptuous costume design, for example. In the opening scenes, the period costumes are in muted earth tones. Then “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” comes on, and the stage bursts with colors: oranges, purples, yellows, ochres, blues, hot pink. The costumes stay vivid for the rest of the show. Dolly’s red dress in the title number draws entrance applause. The detail in the white dress she wears in the finale is visible all the way to the back of the lower orchestra. The costumes include matching hats and even shoes in matching hues.

Matthew Sipress’s period-faithful choreography would not look out of place in the original 1964 production. The huge cast of 34 looks sharp and has fine ensemble in the dancing. No one simply walks across the stage. They march, tiptoe, hop, bounce, float, glide, sashay, polka, and waltz. And that’s not the complete list.

Dee Hoty, a bona fide musical theater star, plays the title role as a thoroughly modern Dolly. She has not an iota of vulnerability or self-doubt. Thus, Dolly is not a particularly sympathetic figure. She’s frustrated with her situation and schemes to marry Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder strictly for his money (he’s “half a millionaire”). Hoty is an accomplished actor and is in fine voice in this show. And she’s not above low humor, such as the long, drawn-out face-stuffing scene in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant.

Although he gives the usual fine performance, not even Matthew Alvin Brown can lift the production much. In his long career, Brown has played both leading and featured roles as if they’re the most important thing in the world. Here he is in comedic mode as Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s chief clerk. His “It Only Takes a Moment” is the sweetest moment in the show.

And then you have the 22-musician orchestra under the baton of David Andrews Rogers. Hear the full sections of strings, brass, and reeds!  The choruses are well sung by the ensemble. On opening night, the amplification sounded muddy at first but was corrected later, or we just got used to it.

George Dvorsky is fine as Vandergelder. He gets one of the great showtunes, “It Takes a Woman.” Kristy Cates does a good job as milliner Irene Molloy.

But it’s hard to find characters to really like in this production. The bumblers Cornelius and his co-clerk, Barnaby (Gordie Beingessner), are affable enough. Mrs. Molloy has a down-to-earth genuineness. But they are minor characters. Vandergelder is written to be irascible and close with money. Dolly is opportunistic but without the charm that would make her appealing. Who are we supposed to connect with emotionally?

Lyric reduced the number of shows it does in the summer to three from four. They promised, however, to do more elaborate productions at the Thelma Gaylord. Based on the evidence of two shows, I can confirm the productions are more detailed, fully staged with artistic three-dimensional sets, creative lighting, and fully realized props.

Hello, Dolly! remains one of the great mid-twentieth-century musicals. The Lyric production isn’t completely unsatisfying. But the show probably won’t have you marching, floating, polkaing, or waltzing out of the theater.

Hello, Dolly! by Jerry Herman (music/lyrics) and Michael Stewart (book)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
2:00 p.m. Sunday, through July 15
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.