Hello, Dolly! @ Fox Theatre

Hello, Dolly! had a long and winding road
to its place as one of the great musical comedies of the American theatre. It began its trip in England in 1835 as the
play A Day Well Spent, by John Oxenford. The Austrian Johann Nestroy adapted it as
the farce Einen Jux will er sich machen, or He’s Out to Have a Good Time. Thornton Wilder brought the story back into
English in 1938 as The Merchant of Yonkers, which flopped. So Wilder tried again in 1955 with The Matchmaker,
which was a big hit and even made into a 1958 film. If you look at the progression of the titles,
you notice that both Oxenford and Nestroy feature the two young men who escape for a
day of fun in the city. Wilder’s The Merchant of Yonkers focuses the
spotlight on the young men’s employer. Finally, Wilder got it right with The Matchmaker,
Dolly Gallagher Levi, as the main character. Producer David Merrick persuaded composer
and lyricist Jerry Herman and playwright Michael Stewart to turn it into a musical, Gower Champion
to direct and choreograph it, and Carol Channing to play the lead. Many of Broadway and Hollywood’s greatest
have since played that role, but Channing’s performance remains definitive. Carolee Carmello plays Dolly in the touring
production currently at the Fox. She may not be as big a name as some of her
predecessors, but she has Tony nominations. And she makes an excellent Dolly in what is
perhaps the best production – or at least the one I’ve like most – of Hello, Dolly!
that I’ve seen. She gives the song “I Put My Hand In”
a visual richness that’s new to me and that the number needs. She may have been helped there by the current
director, Jerry Zaks, and choreographer, Warren Carlyle, who probably draw on Champion’s work
– his name is in the program – but give it their own richness. Hello, Dolly’s ancestry is in farce, which
is even harder than comedy, and Zaks makes the farcical elements work brilliantly. Especially in the scene in Irene Molloy’s
hat shop, when Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker hide in closets, under a table, and
in plain sight from their employer Horace Vandergelder, the timing and the misdirection
of attention are exquisite. The same is true of the confusions at dinner
in Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, though there they are somewhat overshadowed by the brilliance
of the choreography and dancing the surround them. The brightly amazing sets and costumes of
Santo Loquasto and lights of Natasha Katz heighten the cartoonish, farcical quality
of the musical and of this production, with brighter colors in New York than in Yonkers. Daniel Beeman and Sean Burns charm with the
innocent eagerness of Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, and Analisa Leaming and Chelsea
Cree Groen charm with the quick and subtle wiles of Irene Molloy and Minnie Fay, Leaming
especially attentive to the reactions of her character. John Bolton may share only a name with a recently
departed member of the White House staff, but his character, Horace Vandergelder, does
share that persons aggressiveness. The cast is fine throughout, as is this Hello,

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