Theater review: Hello, Dolly!

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Pat Heiss has been hinting that her current starring role in Hello, Dolly! up at Old Courthouse Theatre might be her musical swan song - but did that mean that the septuagenarian needed to do a swan dive at the end of her showstopping title tune, capping her glorified arrival at the Harmonia Gardens?

Whether or not Dolly Levi's deceased husband Ephraim was agreeing from beyond to the entreaties of his loyal widow, Heiss and stage director Tommy Foster left no doubt that they were letting go with a headlong tumble into the arms of the Harmonia's posh wait staff.

Heiss' valedictory is only one of the enticements that await you if you opt to make the trip to Concord for Dolly's upcoming goodbye weekend. She's adroitly miked by sound designers Maggie Reichard and Mark Bargeloh so she doesn't strain to be heard over Stephanie Campbell's five-piece band, and she's dressed to quill in Brooke Bible's feathery costume creations. Roger Watson is half oafish hulk and half gray eminence as Yonkers feed store magnate Horace Vandergelder, an effective blend for the main target of Dolly's matrimonial machinations.

Deep down in the cast, we contend with the quaint charms of community theater that we don't often see anymore here in Charlotte due to our high-quality, desperately underemployed talent pool. I had great fun watching the wayward execution of Foster's uncompromising choreography. At one point, it was anyone's guess which of his three lead dancers was doing Foster's steps correctly as they all stole glances at one another. Until then, I had wondered why the young man with the best voice hadn't been cast in a major role.

So Foster's judgment was eventually vindicated when Vandergelder's clerks, Billy Sumner as alpha clerk Cornelius Hackl and Nick Culp as underling Barnaby Tucker, were finally freed to hoof it after Dolly's dancing tutelage. The citified ladies these hicks pair up with, Christy Hinkelman as milliner Irene Molloy and Iesha Hoffman as her clerk Minnie Fay, are quite worthy of their frilly finery - and the oppressed Yonkers clerks' worship. What Hinkelman lacks compared with Hoffman's natural acting she makes up for with her velvety voice.

Anthony Sims and Karen Stahl don't solve the mystery of why Ambrose Kemper would ever wish to marry Horace's daughter Ermengarde, but they don't waste any effort on this conundrum. Better to study the set, jointly designed by Foster, Kelly Price, and JW Story. The entire Old Courthouse proscenium is festooned with huge enlargements of Dolly Levi's numerous business cards - with a few whimsical additions, including some bloody services to be rendered at Jewish circumcisions.

Perhaps eradicating that image is what prompted Foster and Heiss to concoct their makeshift mosh pit.

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