By Roz Friedman
Hello, Dolly! won the Tony award for Best Musical in 1964; Jerry Herman's Music and Lyrics are sublime; “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Hello, Dolly,” “Elegance,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and the romantic, “ It Only Takes a Moment,” are all hits. The book by Michael Stewart was based on Thornton Wilder's wonderful play, “The Matchmaker; it starred the endearing Carol Channing, who, like Yul Brynner in The King and I, captured the role and made it her own. She reprised it several times to continuous kudos.
This is an interesting fact: The role was written for Ethel Merman, who possessed a trumpet- like voice and overwhelming confidence on stage. She originally declined the offer. However, in its sixth year following, 7 others, on March 28, 1970, Merman took over and her Dolly was a smash hit. She stayed with the show for 210 performances until the very end on Dec 27, 1970. We saw her in this unforgettable portrayal, which was the last time she appeared on stage.
Now, at Goodspeed, Daniel Goldstein is directing an uneven production of this lovely classic. Klea Blackhurst, who has portrayed Ethel Merman in her show, Everything the Traffic Will Allow, is starring as Dolly, the meddlesome matchmaker. I fully expected a robust portrayal and was somewhat disappointed. Ms. Blackhurst has a strong voice and the ability to light up centerstage. However, she seems to hang back, becoming a part of the cast. It is only in a number well into the second act, “Hello Dearie,” that she comes alive. Australia's Tony Sheldon looked a bit lost in the beginning. As Horace Vandergelder, he is supposed to be rough and grumpy. It took him a while to convince us of that.
Wade Laboissonniere's homely, somber costumes in muted shade of purples and browns, do not help. The spare set by Adrian W. Jones in the first act was also very brown; Vandergelder's feed store was never that empty or colorless; but high shelves that turn into a train were the cleverest, and the second act Harmonia Garden Restaurant was effective.
The highlight of Hello, Dolly! is Ashley Brown!!!! This beautiful actress, who created the role of Mary Poppins on Broadway and played Belle in Beauty and the Beast, possesses an exquisite voice. Her acting ability is a cut above anyone else on stage. As Irene Malloy, the frustrated milliner, her rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back,” is memorable. Catherine Blades as her assistant, Minnie Faye, is adorable.
The cast of waiters, choreographed by Kelli Barclay, does a stunning job running up and down stairs and across the floor of the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant at warp speed. Hello, Dolly! has been extended and will play through September 14 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Ct
(This review originally aired on WNFR Fine Arts radio.)