When was the last time you saw a production of Hello, Dolly!?

If you’re like most Los Angeles theatergoers, the answer is likely somewhere between “not for years” and “never,” hardly what one would expect from Jerry Herman’s biggest Broadway hit, one whose 2,844 performances not only made it the longest running musical of its time but led to three major Broadway revivals.  The 1964 smash walloped Funny Girl at the Tony Awards, its ten wins a record that remained unbroken until 2001 when The Producers won twelve.  Not only that, but in the same year that the Beatles led the British Invasion of the American pop charts, Louis Armstrong’s recording of Hello, Dolly!’s title song achieved the nearly impossible.  It knocked the Fab Four from the Number One position on Billboard’s Hot 100.

So why hasn’t there been a major L.A./O.C. area production in the last decade or longer?

The reason turns out to be a simple one. Major CLOs rent most of their sets, and there hasn’t been a Dolly set available for rent—at least not until 3D Theatricals decided to create one from scratch.  The resulting scenic design, a gorgeous watercolor-toned storybook creation by the eminent John Iacovelli, may well lead to a Dolly renaissance, the first example of which is an all-around terrific revival at the OC Pavilion directed by one of L.A. theater’s most acclaimed talents, Calvin Remsberg, and starring the one-and-only Ruth Williamson as Dolly.

If ever a show called for a bona fide star in its leading role, it’s Hello, Dolly!, and 3D has nabbed one in Williamson, veteran of a half-dozen or more Broadway shows and an L.A. theater treasure.  The triple-threat has that larger-than-life quality the role requires, making her a worthy successor to Dolly extraordinaire Carol Channing and the many stellar Dollys who followed Channing either on Broadway, in London, or on tour, a list which includes Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Dorothy Lamour, Eve Arden, and Yvonne De Carlo.

Hello, Dolly!’s Dolly is, of course, Dolly Levi, the Matchmaker of Yonkers, New York, previously seen on Broadway as the title character of Thornton Wilder’s straight play The Matchmaker.   Like Pygmalion, however, something seems missing whenever The Matchmaker is revived, and that something is the songs, in this case the creation of the man rightly known as the King Of Show Tunes.  Besides the title song, there’s “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before The Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes A Moment,” and a dozen or so others, making this arguably Herman’s finest, catchiest, most melodic score.  As for the words, could any other lyricist top Herman’s “It takes a woman all powdered and pink to joyously clean out the drain in the sink”?

Williamson milks every laugh that book writer Michael Stewart gives her, and sings Dolly’s songs in a rich contralto that is about as different from Channing’s trademark rasp as chocolate is from popcorn.

Supporting Williamson is an all-around fabulous cast, led by a deliciously dry David Allen Jones as Horace Vandergelder, the grouchy, penny-pinching “half-a-millionaire” Dolly sets out to marry—in order to spread his wealth around like manure and make good things grow.  Statuesque beauty Virginia Weber is a splendid Irene Molloy, the widow Horace has his eyes set on, and for any in the audience who saw “Viva” Weber as prudish mayor Matilda in All Shook Up, this 180 degree turnabout is a revelation.  She is matched by a charmingly nerdish Bryan Feldman as head Vandergelder clerk Cornelius Hackl, with both Weber and Feldman displaying fine legit pipes in “Ribbons Down My Back” and “It Only Takes A Moment.”

Recent Arts High School grad Taylor Simmons is a positively adorable singing/dancing Barnaby Tucker, and Hannah Simmons (no relation) is his delightful match as Barnaby’s dream girl Minnie Fay. Star-in-the-making Garrett Deagon radiates Tommy Tune charisma as Ambrose Kemper, starving artist with a thing for Vandergelder niece Ermengarde (Dani Kerry, who bawls with the best of them). Claire V. Solly is a scene-stealer as the entirely made up (and larger than life) Ernestina Money. Jay Wallace (Rudy), John Butz (Judge), and Sheila Karls (Mrs. Rose) also do fine work.

Dance captain Paul Romero Jr. leads Dolly’s first class song-and-dance ensemble—Jenn Aedo, Archer Altstaetter, Zolt Banki, Dennis Bendersky, Stephanie Draude, Karlee Ferreira, Brittany Rose Hammond, Jenny Rose Hobbs-Hutzler, Maggie Howell, Kevin Ling, Shannon McFarland, Michael Milligan, Ami Russ, Neil J. Starkenberg, Nathan Wise, and Jenna Wright.

Award-winning musical director Gerald Sternbach makes his 3D debut here, leading the production’s excellent seventeen-piece orchestra.  Kami Seymour has choreographed one terrific production number after another, “The Waiters’ Gallop” taking the prize for the evening’s most exciting, energetic hoofing, the younger male ensemble members deserving an award for stamina above the call of duty.

Like Iacovelli’s marvelous new sets, Sharell Martin’s stunning costumes, built almost entirely from scratch, are likely to insure that 3D’s revival will be only the first of many across the country.  Lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg does his usual superb work making this Dolly look great, and sound designer Julie Ferrin makes Dolly sound as great as she looks.

Nicole Wessel is production stage manager and Jenny Jacobs is assistant stage manager.

In Hello, Dolly!’s most famous production number, the Harmonia Garden waiters serenade Dolly Levi with the immortal words, “Hello, Dolly, it’s so nice to have you back where you belong. You’re looking swell, Dolly. We can tell, Dolly.  You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’, you’re still goin’ strong.” The same can be said for the musical. It’s so great (indeed!) to have Hello, Dolly! back where it belongs!

3-D Theatricals, OC Pavilion, 801 N Main Street Santa Ana. www.ocpavilion.com

–Steven Stanley
July 9, 2010
Photos: Alysa Brennan

Comments are closed.