Michael Stewart (Book); Jerry Herman (Music & Lyrics)
Based on the Play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder
The Mountain Play
It only takes a few notes into the “Overture” when palpably the adrenaline of the audience goes into happy overdrive. Whether it is the first or fifteen time that anyone sitting in the vast Mountain Play’s outdoor amphitheater on Mount Tamalpais has seen today’s offering, everyone surely is familiar with many of the songs being previewed in the “Overture” of the much-loved, oft-produced Hello Dolly (Michael Stewart, book; Jerry Herman, music & lyrics). Difficult it is not to hum along (much less sing) as the twenty-piece orchestra builds toward the overture’s familiar finale, but impossible it is for everyone not to don a smile that will not leave anyone’s face for the next three or so hours of The Mountain Play’s 109th annual, summer show of musical bliss.
Based on the popular play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder, the 1964, ten-Tony-Award-winning Hello Dolly is a musical so familiar that its story hardly needs recounting in a review. Who does not know that Yonkers widow Dolly Gallagher Levi has her Cupid’s arrow pointed toward the unsuspecting heart of the grumpy, but half-a-million-rich widower, Horace Vandergelder, who has actually hired Dolly to make a match between him and a widow milliner from New York City, Irene Malloy? Dolly is scheming not only to marry Horace but also to convince him to let his constantly weepy but pretty niece, Ermengarde, marry against his will a young, handsome – and of course poor – artist, Ambrose Kemper. Along the way, Dolly will figure out how to find brides for Horace’s two small-town, store clerks, Barnaby and Cornelius, who have big city (as in New York City) dreams. Those marital matches will be to Horace’s intended, Irene, and her young, hat shop clerk, Minnie Fay. And none of this can be accomplished without tons of hilarity and well over a dozen of the best-loved songs now finding their places secure in the Great American Songbook after premiering in Hello Dolly.
A role that has probably been undertaken globally by hundreds of Dolly’s and one which millions associate with the likes of Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Pearl Bailey, Barbra Streisand, and even Bette Midler cannot help but be a bit daunting to take on for six Sundays in front of potentially over three thousand, five hundred musical fans of the venerable Mountain Theatre. However, in Dyan McBride, Director Jay Manley has found a Dolly that matches up to the best of all those Dolly’s. From her opening “I Put My Hand In” to her closing “So Long, Dearie,” there is never any doubt but that her sparkling personality, full-voiced vocals, and big-stage presence will combine with her twinkling, slightly devilish wit to leave us as audience time and again laughing aloud at her comic antics and dropping our jaws in awe of her powerful lungs.
When she is called upon to dance, this Dolly soft shoes, waltzes, and skirts across the stage with grace and charm. When she says yet another of Dolly’s well-known one-liners (“You go your way, Horace, and I’ll go mine” while always pointing her two hands in the same direction toward Horace), we laugh as if hearing it for the first time. And when she comes down that waiter-and-chef-lined stairway in New York’s Harmonia Gardens, we want to stand and cheer as she sings with fresh aplomb, “Hello, Harry; well, hello, Louie.” Dyan McBride never fails to disappoint and in fact always exceeds expectations as she commands the huge, outdoor stage every time she enters it with confident flair.
Besides his money, one wonders why Dolly is so set on marrying the growly Horace Vandergelder so deliciously played by the well-voiced Randy Nazarian? This is a man who spouts forth views like “99% in this world are fools and the rest of us are in danger of their contamination” and who sings with an assembled group of surrounding, Yonkers men, “It takes a woman all powdered and pink to joyously clean out the drain in the sink.” But as this blowhard chauvinist, Randy Nazarian excels with his showman presence, not only winning Dolly’s but all of our hearts as the man who will in fact make her happy and let Dolly be – as he finally refers to her – the “wonderful woman” he comes to love.
But long before Horace finally realizes his love for Dolly, he is heading to New York thinking he will seal the deal with Irene Malloy, bringing her a box of chocolate-covered peanuts – shelled – to demonstrate his generosity. This leaves 33-year-old Chief Clerk Cornelius Hackl and 17-year-old Barnaby Tucker on their ownat the feed store, leading to a wild-haired scheme to go to New York for the day to have a good meal, spend all their money (which is not too much), see the stuffed whale at Barnum’s Museum, and not come home until they have kissed a girl (which will be the first time for both). Chanchi Delgado (Cornelius) and Zachary Frangos (Barnaby) each bring a combination of wide-eyed naivite, a boy’s want for adventure, and hormones that are near bubbling over without the first idea of what to do about that (except maybe get that first kiss).
When in New York, they stumble into a lady’s hat shop ;and immediately each fall heads over heels in full infatuation with Irene (Cornelius) and Minnie (Barnaby). Jay Manley directs one of several, belly-laughter-producing scenes when Horace shows up and his two clerks must hide under a table and inside a display closet before being discovered by him to have left his Yonker’s store unattended. By the time Dolly also joins the scene, the mayhem caused by Horace’s suspecting that his intended (Irene) is hiding a man (actually, two) in her shop is a near show-stopper – except Jay Manley manages to produce several other such moments of equal, comic chaos as the story progresses. And all this hilarity of the boys dashing and darting under the cover of hats and skirts is serenaded by a wonderfully sung “Motherhood March” by Dolly, Irene (Jen Brooks), and Minnie (Julia Ludwig).
One of the more delightful scenes follows as Dolly – after convincing the guys to take the just-met gals to dinner at the world-famous Harmonia Gardens – teaches the two-left-feet men to dance. What starts as awkward stumbles and stepping on toes soon turns into elegant waltzing as the two couples are then joined by a street full of sixteen or so twirling, lifting, spinning passers-by. This “Dancing” is just one of a number of stage-filling, exuberant dance extravaganzas by a chorus that not only impresses but in fact thoroughly wows via the well-executed, highly athletic choreography designed by Zoë Swenson-Graham and led by Dance Captain Lucas Michael Chandler. As a chorus, this same ensemble under the musical direction of David Möschler (also director of the excellent 20-piece orchestra) time and again sings in beautiful, big-voiced, and well-balanced harmony crowd favorites such as “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and of course, “Hello, Dolly”.
In fact, it is the Ensemble that makes this production so often eye-popping arresting with their collective talent and their stunning looks dressed in turn-of-the-last-century finery (Misha Navarre, costume designer). A dozen men and women waiters of the Harmonia Gardens emerge with silver platters of high-stacked, edible delectables (Kevin Stanford, Prop Master) only to send them flying (but not spilling) in all directions as they dance in a swirling, jumping, hyper-speed sequence of full-stage dances. The waiters reappear several times with newly plattered courses, each new, rambuctious dance set being more impressive than the last. They are eventually joined by high-hat, high-stepping chefs in their kitchen whites and with rolled napkins that fill the air with high-speed, spiraling gaiety. “The Waiters’ Gallop” becomes yet one more reason of many to grab a ticket for an upcoming Sunday of fun and flurry, of music and madness, and of revelry and romance at The Mountain Play’s 2022 spectacle, Hello, Dolly.
Rating: 5 E
A Theatre Eddy’s Best Bet Production
Hello, Dolly continues each Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. through June 19, 2022 (as well as a sing-along Saturday performance on June 11) at The Mountain Play’s Mountain Amphitheatre, Mount Tamalpais, Marin County, California. Tickets are available online at https://www.mountainplay.org .
Photos Credit: Robin Jackson