01 August 2009

Hello, Dolly! - Open Air Theatre @ Regents Park, Friday 31st July 2009


It's the turn of the 20th century, and all of New York City is excited because widowed but brassy Dolly Gallagher Levi is in town Dolly makes a living through what she calls "meddling" – matchmaking and numerous sidelines, including dance instruction and mandolin lessons . She is currently seeking a wife for grumpy Horace Vandergelder, the well-known half-a-millionaire, but it becomes clear that Dolly intends to marry Horace herself. Ambrose Kemper, a young artist, wants to marry Horace's weepy niece Ermengarde, but Horace opposes this because Ambrose's vocation does not guarantee a steady living. Ambrose enlists Dolly's help, and they travel to Yonkers, New York to visit Horace.

Horace explains to his two clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, that he is going to get married. He plans to travel with Dolly to New York City to propose to the widow Irene Molloy, who owns a hat shop there. Dolly arrives in Yonkers and "accidentally" mentions that Irene's first husband might not have died of natural causes, and also mentions that she knows an heiress, Ernestina Money, who may be interested in Horace. Horace leaves for New York and tells Cornelius and Barnaby to mind the store.Cornelius decides that he and Barnaby need to get out of Yonkers They blow up some tomato cans to create a terrible stench and a good alibi to close the store. Dolly mentions that she knows two ladies in New York they should call on: Irene Molloy and her shop assistant, Minnie Fay. She tells Ermengarde and Ambrose that she'll enter them in the polka competition at the fancy Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in New York City so Ambrose can demonstrate his ability to be a bread winner to Uncle Horace. Cornelius, Barnaby, Ambrose, Ermengarde and Dolly take the train to New York.

Irene and Minnie open their hat shop for the afternoon. Irene wants a husband but does not love Horace Vandergelder. Cornelius and Barnaby arrive at the shop and pretend to be rich. Horace and Dolly arrive at the shop, and Cornelius and Barnaby hide. Irene inadvertently mentions that she knows Cornelius Hackl, and Dolly tells her and Horace that even though Cornelius is Horace's clerk by day, he's a New York playboy by night; he's one of the Hackls. Minnie screams when she finds Cornelius hiding in an armoire and Horace storms out, realizing there are men hiding in the shop, but not knowing they are his clerks.Dolly arranges for Cornelius and Barnaby, who are still pretending to be rich, to take the ladies out to dinner to the Harmonia Gardens to make up for their humiliation. Alone, Dolly decides to put her dearly departed husband Ephram behind her and to move on with life. She asks Ephram's permission to marry Horace, requesting a sign from him. Dolly catches up with the annoyed Vandergelder, and convinces him to give her matchmaking one more chance. She tells him that Ernestina Money would be perfect for him and asks him to meet her at the swanky Harmonia Gardens that evening

Cornelius and Barnaby are determined to get a kiss before the night is over. As the clerks have no money for a carriage, they tell the girls that walking to the restaurant shows that they've got "Elegance". At the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, Rudolph, the head waiter, whips his crew into shape for Dolly Levi's return. Horace arrives with his date, but she is not as rich or elegant as Dolly implied; and bored by Horace, she soon leaves, just as Dolly planned.Cornelius, Barnaby and their dates arrive, unaware that Horace is also dining at the restaurant. Irene and Minnie are excited by the lavish restaurant and decide to order the most expensive items on the menu. Fearful of being discovered, Cornelius and Barnaby become increasingly nervous as they have less than a dollar left.

Dolly makes her triumphant return to the Harmonia Gardens and is greeted in style by the staff. She sits in the now-empty seat at Horace's table and proceeds to eat a large, expensive dinner, telling him that no matter what he says, she will not marry him. Barnaby and Horace hail waiters at the same time, and in the ensuing confusion each drops his wallet and inadvertently picks up the other's. Barnaby is delighted that he can now pay the restaurant bill, while Horace finds only a little spare change. Barnaby and Cornelius realize that the wallet must belong to Horace, who recognizes them and also spots Eremengarde and Ambrose. The ensuing free-for-all riot culminates in a trip to night court. Cornelius and Barnaby confess that they have no money and have never been to New York before. Cornelius, Barnaby and Ambrose each professes his love for his companion.Dolly convinces the judge that the only thing everyone is guilty of is being in love. Everyone is found innocent and cleared of all charges, but Horace is declared guilty and forced to pay damages. Dolly mentions marriage again, and Horace declares that he wouldn't marry her if she were the last woman in the world.

The next morning, back at the hay and feed store, Cornelius and Irene, Barnaby and Minnie, and Ambrose and Ermengarde are each setting out on their own. A chastened Vandergelder finally admits that he needs Dolly in his life, but she is unsure about the marriage until her late husband sends her a sign. The sign comes in the unlikely form of a roll of wallpaper in Dolly’s favourite colour, and all ends happily

Creative Team:
Director: Timothy Sheader
Designer:Peter McKintosh
Choreographer: Stephen Mear
Musical Director: PhilipBateman
Lighting Designer: Simon Mills
Orchestrator: David Shrubsole
Sound Designer: Mike Walker
Casting Director: David Grindrod Associates
Dialect Coach: Majella Hurley

Samantha Spiro : Dolly
Mark Anderson : Ambrose Kemper
Allan Corduner : Horace Vandergelder
Oliver Brenin : Barnaby Tucker
Clare Louise Connolly : Ermengarde
Daniel Crossley : Cornelius Hackl
Josefina Gabrielle : Irene Molloy
Akiya Henry : Minnie Fay
Andy Hockley : Rudolph
Annalisa Rossi :Ernestina
John Stacey : Judge

“We’re gonna find adventure in the evening air……”

July was a complete no-go area as far as theatre trips was concerned, so it was nice to be able to get tickets for a preview of every gay boy’s favourite musical. And, for once, we cheated the weather, which has bedevilled practically the entire season at the Open Air Theatre this year. OK, it wasn’t blisteringly hot, but at least it wasn’t raining. There was, as expected, a very high PPSI (Poofs Per Square Inch) ratio, and unfortunately a high NGPSI ratio too (Noisy Germans Per Square Inch) – four extremely Aryan ladies of a certain age (methinks they had all just visited their good friend Miss Clairol) who sat next to us explaining the plot details to each other, hooting and pointing and singing along in direct inverse volume to the amount of wine left in their communal bottle. I gritted my teeth until the interval when I asked them to keep it down please, ladies, but this only meant that they spent the second half doing their best stage whispers, shushing each other loudly and giggling. Still, at least they didn’t urinate on the stage, which I gather happened at a performance of A Little Night Music recently:


Hello, Dolly! is a strange musical if you only know it from the film. The beginning is very, very muted compared to Ms. Streisand’s frenetic opening number and I admit that I was feeling a bit disappointed. Even the fantabulous pull-apart set (resembling a cross between a Grecian temple and a paddle steamer) couldn’t cheer me up. But I enjoyed the way that Dolly appeared from a door right up in the back of the auditorium and “worked” the audience, handing out business cards left, right and centre. And Ms. Spiro, despite her lack of inches, really did seem to be giving it her all, like a mother hen on speed. But she has a very strange voice; by no means is she a singer and I foresee vocal problems ahead for her during the six week run – her voice isn’t deep enough to hit the low notes, and not high enough to hit the high notes, and so it sounded like she was really struggling to get enough power through anything but the mid-range stuff. Not that what she sings isn’t well sung – its just that it was extremely obvious that she can’t belt out a big number. One exchange of dialogue which I don’t think appears in the film was a bit of a wake-up call for me to Dolly’s real character and occurred just before this section – she only makes a pretence of paying for her train ticket then manages to wheedle someone else into paying for it. And there were lots of other little touches that made her rather less sympathetic than she should have been. In fact, the more I listened, the more I heard that was inconsistent with other characters as well. There was a distinct suggestion that the first Mr. Molloy didn’t die of natural causes, and Horace Vandergelder’s sudden assertion near the end that “Money is like manure; its no good unless you spread it around” seems distinctly at odds with his tight-fistedness throughout the rest of the show.

For me, the show didn’t really get going until “Put on your Sunday Clothes” when the chorus almost literally burst onto the stage. Their energy level was amazing, their costumes very well designed and – importantly – appropriate in colour and style to the entire production. They also hoofed like maniacs – full marks to the choreographer. Their number was full of simple but very effective moves and the section where they became the train, with Dolly up in front on a luggage trolley, was deservedly applauded. But the bit I liked best was when the walking canes of the men got slotted into holes in the back of the shop counter and became stands for the hats in Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop. Very simple, very effective and showing that the production had been directed with an eye to detail, which always gets full marks from me. In fact, I think that the chorus numbers really make this particular production special. When the Parade Passes By, which closes Act I, for all that Ms. Spiro should be screaming her tits off and throwing top Gs all around the stage (and couldn’t) was made really something special by the fact that the chorus were all working overtime to get the number across. The big number danced by the waiters in the second act practically stopped the show and I would have happily stood up on my seat and called for an encore of this had I not wanted to draw attention to myself for fear of being labelled A Rowdy Element and chucked out.

Other elements of the performance grated rather – the hat shop scene always falls a bit flat for me; not only because it slows the action down to walking pace, but the elements of farce bore me. I always find Ribbons Down My Back rather a tedious little song – Josefina Gabrielle seemed to be another one having problems with her pitching, which made it doubly difficult to sit through, and I could have happily slapped Akiya Henry who was playing Minnie Fay rather in the fashion of Butterfly “I doan know nuffin’ bout birthin’ babies, MizzScarlett” McQueen.

Now, there are certain readers who I know are going to roll their eyes at this point, but I have to say that I do like a well-choreographed walk-down at the end of a show, and if you are also of this ilk, then do get yourself a ticket for this production because the curtain calls are wonderful – although the lighting box need to be considerably tighter with their follow spots because it looked for a moment like the entire stage was under attack by a squadron of killer fireflies. A fine show nonetheless, and one which deserves to be seen. And nobody urinates on the stage.

Theatre Geekery:

The show was originally entitled Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman. It ran on Broadway for 2,844 performances, garnering 11 Tony Awards.

Ethel Merman, who had originally turned down the role, citing exhaustion from a long run of Annie, Get Your Gun, agreed to take on the role for the final two months of the run.

Both Barnaby and Cornelius make several references to the stuffed whale at Barnum’s Museum, although the museum had been long gone by 1890, the year the action takes place ,as it burned down in 1880.

The 1969 film version, in which Dolly was played by Barbra Streisand, was directed by Gene Kelly. In the Harmonia Gardens scene, the wall of Captain Von Trapp’s ballroom from The Sound of Music can be seen behind the hat-check desk.

During filming, Walter Matthau (Vandergelder) and Michael Crawford (Cornelius) took a trip to a nearby racecourse. Discovering that there was a horse running that day called Hello Dolly, Crawford put his entire fee for the film on it. Matthau called him a fool and there was an argument. The horse won. Crawford made a lot of money. Matthau never spoke to him again, on set or off.

What the critics said:






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