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Theater Review: Hello, Dolly!

Christopher Deau Photography

The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre’s production of Hello, Dolly! has everything you could want in a big Broadway show: a Jerry Herman score, hummable tunes, a talented supporting cast, strong vocals and a lead actress with the chops to nail one of American musical theatre’s best-loved roles.

One key to successfully portraying matchmaker Dolly Levi is a close relationship between lead performer and the audience. And that’s where Lori Moore’s star shines brightest. Early in the show she sets the table, as she reveals her character’s talent for meddling in all things related to love, with the engaging number, “I Put My Hand In”.

Moore also draws us in with an aside as she confides her desire to marry penny-pinching Yonkers merchant, Horace Vandergelder. Later Moore holds the house in rapt attention with an emotional declaration to her late husband that after years alone, she now intends to “rejoin the human race”. She seals the deal with her steady build into the powerful Act I finale “Before the Parade Passes By.”

In a show about second acts in love, it’s no surprise that this production of Hello, Dolly! has a strong second act of its own. The reason is simple. Director Tony Humrichouser has ensured that his actors have clearly established appealing characters in Act I whom we care about and are attached to throughout Act II.

Credit Christopher Deau Photography
A scene from the Civic Theatre's production of "Hello, Dolly!"

Ken Holda, as Cornelius Hackle, and Michael Davis Arnold, as Barnaby Tucker breathe life and energy into a boy’s night on the town in New York. Their goal on this journey toward manhood: kissing a girl. Objects of their affection include Taylor Gudbrandson, as milliner Irene Molloy, who sets her cap for Cornelius, and sidekick Minnie Fay, played by Sarah Taylor, who is matched with the reluctant Barnaby.

Gudbrandson delivers the evening’s vocal highpoint in Act I with a sumptuous rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back”. She joins Taylor, Arnold and Holda in Act II for the foursome’s charming after dark strut through the city in “Elegance”.

Front and center in establishing the rollicking atmosphere of Harmonia Gardens, the setting for the key scenes in Act II, are eight tuxedo-clad galloping waiters who serve, sing and entertain with a virtual three-ring circus full of acrobatic acuity, dance maneuvers, and precise drills with trays and food. Credit Joseph NiCastro for the choreography in this and other scenes.

The most important function of this male chorus is to usher in the show’s title character with the show’s title number. Hello, Dolly! has all of the spectacle and appeal you might expect this well- known song to have, largely because of the personal connection Moore’s character has with members of the wait staff. She calls each by name. They respond and warmly welcome her back into the restaurant she once knew. It’s a nice touch that makes Dolly even more desirable as a partner for the grumpy and cold-natured Vandergelder, wonderfully rendered by Hal Hobson-Morse.

While all of the frenetic activity by the wait staff is a joy to behold, it also serves as a diversion for the attention of Vandergelder. More importantly, it assists Dolly in the rehabilitation of this monetary and emotional miser.

Hal Hobson-Morse, though at first immovable as one devoid of empathy and human feeling, waivers under Dolly’s direction, as she falsely assures Horace that she has no desire to marry him.

After Ken Holda’s moving tribute to Cornelius’s love for Irene, in “It Only Takes a Moment,” and a night in an empty jail cell, cracks appear in Vandergelder’s heretofore resolute armor.

Hobson-Morse completes the believable transformation in his feed store as he caves in to the woman he knows he must marry—if she will have him. His solo rendition of the title song is not the warm welcome back heard from the waiters, but an acknowledgement that he now sees Dolly in a new light: as his bride to be and as a woman to be reckoned with.

Also to be reckoned with are the technical demands of producing Hello, Dolly! Here the Civic’s staff more than rises to the occasion. Scenic Designer David Kyhn’s set is visually striking and can shift quickly from a Yonkers feed store to New York City sets unified by Tiffany-inspired motifs.

Sara Tomaszewski’s costumes, hats and hair evoke the gay nineties with color and flair that extend from the tip of the ostrich plume atop Dolly’s head to the bottom of the bustle that backs her charge onto the stage.

Music Director Marie McColley-Kerstetter does justice to Jerry Herman’s score throughout from the spirited overture, to the lifting Finale Ultimo. The music, the acting, and other technical elements make this splendid production of Hello, Dolly! the perfect opener for the Civic’s 90th season.

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