FARMINGTON — Farmington City’s production of Michael Stewart (book) and Jerry Herman’s (music and lyrics) Hello, Dolly! is a community production, which is both its strength and its weakness. Though overall fun and entertaining, and enhanced by the joy of witnessing young and old alike delve into their first experiences of theater, the show had a few rough edges, which I believe can be fixed in later performances.
Despite some of the show’s imperfections, it was still a joy to watch because of the many things the production got right, starting with the casting of the leads. Though I feel I cannot honestly analyze Adam West’s portrayal of Horace because of his unfortunate microphone issues, overall it seemed that he and the rest of the leads were well-picked for their roles, particularly in their acting abilities. Kim Allen Tolman’s Dolly Levi had all the spunk and enthusiasm one expects in the title character. Tolman also produced moments of pure emotional honesty, particularly during parts where Dolly is “talking” to her dead husband, Ephraim. Tolman’s singing voice was overall strong and carried well, and she particularly shone on her closing number, “So Long, Dearie.” The one semi-low note to her otherwise great performance came in the typically show-stopping number, “Before the Parade Passes By,” where her previously strong emotional connection to the work seemed to fade away. She is clearly talented enough to pull it off, and with more mindfulness, the dynamics would have seemed natural rather than forced and the song would have wowed instead of just being pretty good.
My ultimate favorite actor of the night—and honestly, the actor I watched and waited for in every scene—was Tanner Rampton as Cornelius Hackl. Rampton did a wonderful job at being lovable yet awkward and slightly geeky. His singing voice was warm, strong, and emotionally powerful. “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “It Only Takes a Moment” were my favorite of Rampton’s songs. His romantic interest, Mrs. Irene Malloy (Julie Kland), was lovely in her acting—but sadly, disappointed on some of her songs. Her big solo number, “Ribbons Down My Back” was only slightly disappointing as her voice soared on some high notes, then seemed over-controlled and forced on notes in the normal and lower range. However, I was very awed by “It Only Takes a Moment”—both Rampton and Kland delivered a beautiful, soft, though romantic rendition that brought tears to my eyes.
The other stars of the stage were—as is often the case in community productions—the kids. Director Kathie McMillen and Choreographers Kayeli Dupzix and Melanie Mortensen should be commended in their use of the children in the musical numbers. Though the musicality of “Ribbons Down My Back” was underwhelming, the staging was excellent—as a chorus of young girls dressed in pink tutus danced with ribbons in the background. Their dancing was adorable and kept me entertained during a song that wasn’t my favorite.
Lead costume designer Cecile Wall deserves great praise for her work with the costuming. The colors of all the costumes were bright and they all appeared time-period appropriate. A special mention has to go out to Irene’s amazingly beautiful blue dress as well as Dolly’s va-va-voom red gown, both from the second act. The scenery worked, but was simplistic. And the setting—the outdoor Woodland Park Amphitheater—made for a nice theatrical evening out.
The “rough edges”of the play were most apparent with the sound system. From the start, the speakers produced fuzzy, uneven sound quality which made listening to the songs and dialogue difficult. Sometimes the microphones made the volume of the leads’ voices overpowering so that even when the entire ensemble was onstage singing, all I could hear were the principle voices, making a drastically unbalanced sound. This imbalance was especially prevalent in the first few musical numbers, “Call on Dolly” and “I Put My Hand In.” In contrast, at other moments in the production—usually in scenes with Horace Vandergelder (Adam West), whose microphone was on the fritz the entire show—the microphones cut in and out or were so quiet I had to strain to hear let alone understand what was going on. Although the sound problems got better as the show progressed, I hope the issues with Horace’s microphone can be fixed for future performances.
The lack of either experience or enthusiasm of some of the ensemble became obvious particularly in the title musical number, “Hello, Dolly!” Though most of the cast gave their all, I noted at least six bored-looking ensemble members who seemed to be singing and dancing without a thought of what they were singing or dancing about (excitement over seeing Dolly again). I wanted to say to the cast, “This is opening night! Be excited and smile!” I suspect some of this reserve was due to stage fright. I hope that these cast members will think more about what is going on and thus put forth their energy appropriately in each scene. Otherwise, even though the majority of the cast was doing a superb job during the song, the lack of interest and enthusiasm of a few pulled the entire cast’s efforts down.
Overall, I enjoyed this production of Hello, Dolly! and recommend it to fans of the play and community members alike. A few words to the wise: park at the bottom of the hill (or you will get some major exercise on the way to and from the park), bring a blanket or folding chairs as there are no set seats, and wear some bug spray. Then you will be prepared to fully enjoy Farmington’s entertaining rendition of the old favorite Hello, Dolly!