By Toni Wilson Wood
Cedar Falls – In his director’s notes, Hello, Dolly! director Gary “Bum” Baumgartner, who describes himself as a ‘retired old geezer’ recalls the ‘painful bliss’ of being in Hello, Dolly! when he was a junior in high school–41 years ago. This play has stood the test of time, and Bum and the actors, dancers, and orchestra of this production have brought the good old days of the 1890s back to the stage at Oster Regent Theatre in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Cedar Falls Community Theatre production of Hello Dolly!, running through June 19, is exactly what you would expect from a production of this show–spectacular costumes, stellar singing, acting and dancing and detailed and lovely sets. It’s fluffy summer fun–and a darn nice way to spend a couple hours in the theatre.
First, I have to say I do not know this show at all–never saw the movie, never saw it on stage before. In my pre-show research, I read a detailed synopsis of the show. Don’t do this–you will end up like me, going into a show thinking it was going to be the stupidest string of ridiculous plot points that don’t make sense. The show is definitely more than that. All you need to know going in is that the story revolves around Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widowed matchmaker and Jane of all trades (with a big full of calling cards for any conceivable situation she could help in), and her final match to make–her own.
What is lovely about Hello, Dolly! is the submersion into a simpler time–when Younkers was considered a hick town, where ladies and gentlemen were exactly that and they wore fine clothes–dresses with big poofy sleeves and full skirts, with lovely hats and parasols for the ladies, and suits with vests, ties and hats for the men. Long before cell phones, the Kardashians and the Internet. Sound good? You can experience it for yourself in this production.
With a cast of 29 on the Oster Regent’s tall but shallow proscenium, I would have expected the show to be crowded on the stage. It wasn’t. The scenic design by Sam Mensinger was expansive without being overdone–and it didn’t crowd the actors and dancers off the stage. It felt like there were far less people in this show than in musicals I had seen in the past–but it was nice. It’s easy to get crowded out on that stage.
There wasn’t a single person in the cast who didn’t do an amazing job. Kristin Teig Torres as Dolly commands the stage with the force of the friendliest hurricane you’d ever want to meet; she has grace, confidence, and strength. What I most enjoyed about Teig Torres’ performance as Dolly were the asides where she spoke to her deceased husband, asking for a sign that she can move on. In those moments, Dolly Levi was less monolith and more human, a haunting portrait of frailty, loneliness and sadness. Her vocals were perfection, rich and flawless.
Horace Vandergelder, Dolly’s intended match for herself, is played by Chris Draffen as a younger Scrooge–grumpy, eternally exasperated with everything, and only wants to marry again to have a woman to keep his house, as explained in the tongue-in-cheek ‘It Takes a Woman’. Once Draffen and Teig Torres’ characters are put together, you watch with delight as Dolly manages to wear Horace down.
Joel Ochoa as Barnaby Tucker, Vendergelder’s youngest worker at his feed store, and Mackenzie Roth as Minnie Fay, the assistant at a hat store, are both sides of the same sweetly naive and hysterical coin. Both characters have a tendency to blurt things out at times they shouldn’t, and they have the best facial expressions. All I could do is giggle at the perfect comic timing involved in these two characters. They are both the perfect foils to their straight man and woman respectively, Cornelius Hackl (Tad Klenske) and Irene Molloy (Kat Smith). Smith in particular was luminous as the young widow who owns a hat shop–her voice was crisp and lovely, and she and Klenske worked well as this love struck couple.
Other standout performances were given by Marley Millar as the eternally crying Ermengarde, Horace Vandergelder’s niece who wants to marry an artist against her uncle’s wishes; Leslie Cohn as the fun loving Ernestina Money.
The choreography, by Donna Baumgartner, is intricate and fun; there was more than one time during ‘The Waiter’s Gallop’ that the audience oohed, ahhed and gasped at the work of the dancers. They made it look so easy and you could tell they were having a great time on stage.
The costumes were done by Dorothy Brecheisen and Liane Nicol, and they were done perfectly to the period of the show. The ladies all looked proper and lovely in their dresses with parasols and the men looked dapper in their suits, vests, ties and hats. Dolly’s costumes, especially the gown she wore in the Harmonia Gardens scene was a knock out. Speaking of hats, the hat work done by Marnell Lyle was fantastic–it makes me wish hats of that sort would make a comeback–I know I want one now.
All in all, Hello, Dolly! Is a fun piece of Americana. If you’re looking for something more serious, this is not the show for you. But if you are looking for a fun way to spend an evening or afternoon at the theatre, you can’t go wrong with this show.