SANDY — Hello, Dolly! is not only a venerable workhorse in the American musical theatre canon, but it is nearly flawless in its dramatic structure. That is one reason the musical has endured so well for nearly 60 years. So, it is fitting that, as Hello, Dolly! is on the cusp of its 60th year that the equally venerable Hale Center Theatre produces this legendary show. The Hale is known for its lavish and visually dazzling shows, and this production of Hello, Dolly! does not disappoint.
Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway in 1964, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, and produced by David Merrick. The show garnered 10 Tony Awards (including Best Musical), a record that would be held 37 years until The Producers won 12 Tonys in 2001. Hello, Dolly! is a frolicking, fun, farce with “toe-tapping” music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955.
The production design by Kacey Udy is visually stunning, imaginative and stuffed with flowers, lights, and confetti. The set pieces fly in from the sky, creating a breathtaking and unbelievable spectacle. The costume design by Joy Zhu is also stunning because of the way every piece of clothing is perfectly and ingeniously designed for each character.
Kelly DeHaan’s musical direction is flawless (as usual), and Afton Wilson’s choreography is a delight to watch. Wilson’s combinations are not only creative, and she is able to choreograph the movement to showcase her dancers’ abilities. And what abilities they have!. These are some of the best dancers seen on the Hale stage. The direction by Ryan Simmons works very well. Directing in the round is tough, and Simmons knows how to use the space and stage his actors. Everything in this production is impressive, a feast for the eyes and ears.
The only thing this production is lacking, is heart.
The show takes off out of the gate at a breakneck speed, seldom slowing down to focus on any moment where the audience can emotionally connect with the characters. Hello, Dolly! is a comedy with moments of farce, but at the core of the story are characters that are all experiencing loss. Dolly Levi and Irene Malloy are widows, and Horace Vandergelder is a widower. What Stewart’s script and Herman’s score do so adroitly is put these people into ludicrously, exaggerated, and improbable situations that bring out their follies and foibles—that’s the farce. But the play also gives its audience insight into who these people are. It is there in Horace’s song, “It Takes a Woman” where he sings “It takes a woman, all powdered and pink, to joyously clean out, the drain in the sink.” It is there when Irene sings longingly that “I will proudly wear, ribbons down my back, shining in my hair . . . that he might notice me.” One of the most touching monologues in musical theatre is Dolly talking to her dead husband, Ephram about having to move on, to move beyond who she has become and to enter life again, “before the parade passes by.” When a production mines these moments and allows the actors to connect with the emotion of the characters, Hello, Dolly! transcends average storytelling and becomes thrilling. Unfortunately, Simmons’s direction misses most of them, though the ending of the play is still touching, as are parts of Dolly’s monologues. Maybe “It only takes a moment” in each scene to let the characters reveal their desires and pains, but that moment is the difference between a very good production of Dolly! and a great one.
This should not imply that the actors in Hello, Dolly! are anything other than first-rate. Jennifer Parker Hohl is a funny and charming Dolly with a remarkable set of pipes. Her agile acting allows her to maneuver in and out of the story in ways that are both endearing and lovely. Darick Pead is a bumbling affable Cornelius Hackl. Pead has slight overtones of Ryan Reynolds, which is a pleasant surprise for the role. Rachel Woodward Hansen is a lovely Irene Molloy, with a gorgeous voice and impeccable comedic timing. Joining her with an equally gorgeous voice is Je Eun Jun as Minnie Fay, Irene’s sweet and daffy shop assistant.
The rest of the cast is equally winning: Michael Hohl as the pompous “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder, Justin Gibbs as the adorable Barnaby Tucker, Evan McKay Naef as the earnest artist Ambrose Kemper, and Clarisse Austin as the over-emotional, Ermengarde. Utah theatre audiences will struggle to remember an ensemble cast as strong as this one.
Hale Center Theatre’s Dolly is a first-rate production that is a feast for the senses. And maybe it is okay that it lacks a little heart, but there is a reason why this play has endured for 60 years. Hello, Dolly! has the potential to touch the heart and the funny bone. But it is undeniable that no one produces a show like Hale Centre Theatre. No one can. The talent and technical resources can rarely be equaled anywhere (not only in Utah). Seeing talented artists and designers share their talents makes Hello, Dolly! as successful as Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed store.