By Marlene S. Gaylinn

One of the best-loved Jerry Herman musicals, “Hello Dolly,” is currently playing at Goodspeed Opera House to enthusiastic audiences. One of the main reasons for this musical’s popularity is a lively matchmaker called Dolly Levi, played here by Klea Blackhurst. Blackhurst toured the U.S. and London in “Everything that Traffic Will Allow -- a tribute to Ethel Merman. While she studied Merman carefully, the actress expresses her own individuality as she takes her place among the many women that successfully appeared in this title role. Folks may remember Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Bibi Oserwald, Pearl Bailey (who was featured an all-black version) and Ethel Merman who took her final curtain calls in the part that was originally created for her. Yet ironically, of all the stars that played this role, Blackhurst happens to be the closest to the colorful stereotype commonly called an old “yenta” -- an enterprising, motherly woman who thinks she is adept in almost everything, meddles into everyone’s business and eagerly gives advice -- whether asked for or not.

Except for some minor line stumbling, Blackhurst, who resembles Bette Midler, has a captivating smile. With a twinkle in her eye she livens the show with her “chutzpah.” Making her intrusive entrance as Dolly, she freely works the audience by distributing a variety of business cards -- each one announcing a different expertise. Singing and dancing across the stage, plus climbing up and down a stairway while dressed in a heavy, full-skirted costume, could present a challenge for anyone. The fact that Blackhurst has a womanly figure and periodically seemed out of breath is a technical issue that should be dealt with.

While Dolly busily matches mates, she cunningly connives to marry “...half a millionaire, Horace Vandergelder,” played by equally entertaining Tony Sheldon -- he won a Tony nomination for his role in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” Ashley Brown who played Broadway’s “Mary Poppins,” is one of Dolly’s clients, “Irene Malloy” -- who sings as beautiful as she looks.

Song and dance numbers in this show are numerous and catchy. Among them, “Ribbons Down My Back,” sung by Brown, reminds one of an old lullaby. Who could not be stirred listening to “When the Parade Passes By” and the hilarious, precision dance sequence called, “Waiters’ Galop.” Choreographer, Kelli Barclay meticulously choreographed this piece after the original version by Gower Champion. Daniel Goldstein directed the production, the interesting, 1890’s costumes were by Wade Laboissonniere, and Michael O’Flaherty conducted the fine orchestra.

Plays to September 8
Tickets: 860-873-8668

This review appears in “On CT&NY Theatre”  August/2013


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