Sometimes, it takes a new look at an old standard to make us realize how good the “classics” can be.
Proof of this is in the Wagon Wheel Theatre production of the multi-Tony Award-winning musical “Hello, Dolly,” which opened Wednesday evening in the Warsaw playhouse.
A wildly energetic company under the ever-sharp eye of director/choreographer Scott Michaels gives the meddling widow from Yonkers a burst of new life.
Suddenly, in case you haven’t noticed before, Jerry Herman’s score provides a plethora of melodies from which to choose for humming on the way home. Personal favorites: “It Takes A Woman,” “Elegance” and “Dancing,” but probably the most familiar is the title tune, which spent months on the ‘60s pop charts thanks to Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
The character of the indefatigable Dolly Gallagher Levi was created by Carol Channing, who made it her signature role, and has been played by some of the most prestigious divas of the musical comedy world. Not easy footsteps in which to follow.
Kira Lace Hawkins takes up the challenge of becoming Dolly and delivers an engaging and vocally dynamic character who is, as Horace Vandergelder finally admits, a “wonderful woman.” Distributing “business” cards for every eventuality, Hawkins tempers Dolly’s manipulative exterior with a wistful interior that looks for a sign from her dead husband giving permission to her hunt for his successor. And she has a strong and warm soprano that gives depth to “Before the Parade Passes By” and adds a New York snap to “So Long, Dearie.” Her NY accent, which for some can be a problem, is there but not too overdone, and her iron fist/velvet glove achieves the results for which every wife aspires.
As Vandergelder, the object of her intentions, Robert Joseph Miller delivers a beautifully blustering misogynist whose bark is worse than his bite and worth a lot of laughs. His reactions are perfectly timed and never overdone. His eventual (and unavoidable) capitulation is a foregone conclusion but much fun to watch.
“Young love” is handled expertly by a trio of talented pairs.
Rob Montgomery is Cornelius Hackl, Vandergelder’s chief clerk, and Lauren Roesner is Irene Molloy, a widowed milliner. In spite of themselves, they find true love and deliver the show’s lovely ballads., “Ribbons Down My Back” and “It Only Takes a Moment,” with empathetic clarity.
Kevin Clay and Collean Joy Gallagher are Barnaby Tucker and Minnie Fay, Vandergelder’s clerk and Irene’s assistant, who come together in a delightful rush and share the search for love and “Elegance.”
Kevin Nietzel and Heather Dell (a GREAT cryer) are artist Ambrose Kemper and Ermengard, Vandergelder’s niece, who hope to dance their way into matrimony.
Special notice to Sarah Jackson as Ernestina Money (and in the outstanding “gown” of bright yellow and purple by costumer extraordinaire Stephen R. Hollenbeck, you can’t miss her!) for giving new meaning to “chow down.”
Leading players and featured performers all are on their best games here, but the loudest and most sustained applause must go to the gentlemen (and some ladies) of the Harmonia Gardens wait staff. Displaying an incredible amount of stamina — and some equally incredible coordinated dance moves — they combine to make the daunting “Waiter’s Gallop” an unquestionable highlight of this production.
Leaping and twirling and tossing the cuisine with unerring accuracy, they never miss a step (or a glass) and move smoothly from one seemingly impossible pattern to another. You really have to see them to believe it. (Note: Check out the disgruntled droop on the waiter who consistently chalks up a “near-miss”.)
In addition to the “Gallop” and the title tune, “Dolly!” boasts several familiar ensemble song-and-dance numbers. From the opening “Call on Dolly” through the wildly colorful “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” to the happily-ever-after finale, the young people blend their voices beautifully while never skipping a beat.
In the WW tradition of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the beautifully flexible set was designed for an earlier “Dolly” by the late Roy Hine. It works just as well in this decade.
“HELLO, DOLLY!” plays through July 13 in the theater at 2517 E. Centre Street in Warsaw. For show times and reservations, call 267-8041 or (800) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com.