Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July, 2003

The Mac-Haydn is offering up a cheerful, likeable, and oddly uneven production of Hello Dolly! Basically, the leading ladies are great and the leading men are miscast. Since this is a show about a woman, told very much from a woman’s point of view, things could be worse.

Kathy Halenda is outstanding in the title role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, and therefore she completely overwhelms the bland John Baker as her prey, er, future husband, Horace Vandergelder. Halenda was better matched with Jim Kidd in the Mac-Haydn earlier production of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In this show Kidd is inexplicably reduced to playing the maitre d’ at the Harmonia Gardens Café. Baker is too slight and goofy to stand up to the power of Halenda as Dolly, and let me tell you, it is a powerful performance and well worth seeing.

Tiffany Thornton trots out her impossibly-beautiful-ingénue persona to play the wistful young widow Irene Molloy. I am always pleased and amazed by Thornton who I have seen play glamorous, wholesome, sexy, nerdy, and just plain gorgeous. She has a beautiful, operatically trained voice, but she can sing like a normal person too. It is just a pleasure to see and hear her in this production.

Karla Shook is delightful as Minnie Fay. You do not blame Barnaby one bit for falling for her at first sight. In her first scene, Shook manages to speak more rapidly than humanly possible, and make herself understood.

Rounding out the female speaking parts are Danielle Crinnion as the perpetually whining Ermengarde, and Marcia Kunkel as the totally tacky Ernestina Money. You are supposed to want to slap Crinnion silly, and you do. Kunkel is just a hoot as the blind-date-from-hell, all decked out in brilliant canary yellow and shocking pink.

And now the men. Scott Harris, who plays Cornelius Hackl, is a talented dancer and a mediocre singer, so why is he cast as a character who sings well and dances badly? Andrew Livingston is a gifted clown, but he paints the naïve Barnaby Tucker with strokes that are way too broad and border on buffoonery. Kidd and David Bondrow are wasted in small roles, although they each get to turn an impressive somersault.

Happily, Joshua Bond, an intriguing young performer, is quite appealing in the small role of artist Ambrose Kemper. He is a tremendously athletic dancer and he doesn’t look like your average chorus boy. I would like to see him given some more opportunities to shine.

Director John Saunders, who did such a splendid job on Sugar Babies, has not fared so well with this show. Hello, Dolly! is a book musical, but it has strong overtones of the surreal and the ridiculous. And bringing what was an immense Broadway spectacle into the small and labyrinthine halls of the Mac-Haydn is no easy feat. Sometimes Saunders succeeds – as with the charming small scale 14th Street Association Parade (which gives the fantastically flexible Lisa Karlin a chance to show off) and the hysterically funny courtroom scene, both of which hark back to the vaudevillian style of Sugar Babies – and sometimes he comes up short. For instance you never really believe that Halenda’s Dolly wants Baker’s Vandergelder for anything other than his money, and that cheapens Halenda’s otherwise stellar performance.

Rusty Curcio has provided some equally uneven choreography to match. There are moments of brilliance and moments of strange stuff. The Waiter’s Gallop is a fabulous sight to behold, but the choreography for Put On Your Sunday Clothes is just plain peculiar. Unfortunately for the very talented dancers at the Mac-Haydn, you get the feeling that just when the plot gets moving, a bunch of people charge in and dance at you. The blend of music, dance, and acting just never really works.

So this production is not perfect, but it is certainly not a bomb. Halenda received a well-deserved standing ovation the night I attended. Hello, Dolly! really is a sweet, old-fashioned show that the whole family can enjoy together, and there is a great deal to enjoy here. I say go and have fun!

Hello, Dolly! runs through August 3 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Rt. 203 in Chatham, NY. The show runs two hours and forty minutes with one intermission. Call the box office at 518-392-9292 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003

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