Isn’t the world full of wonderful things? Especially in Fullerton California where 3-D Theatricals, one of Southern California’s most distinguished theater companies, is presenting “Hello Dolly!” The final production of their incredible 2015-16 season as well as at the city’s landmark “Plummer Auditorium”, in the Fall the company moves to their new home as the resident theater company of “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” in Cerritos California; but for now they couldn’t be saying ‘farewell’ to Fullerton on a better or brighter note, with this, one of the most beloved musicals of all time. In fact, to borrow from one of the score’s better known lyrics, “It Only Takes A Moment” to know this production is yet another bona fide winner for everyone involved!
For a story about a professional “match-maker” it was a match made in Heaven! In 1964 veteran Broadway book-writer Michael Stewart teamed with an up and coming Composer/Lyricist named Jerry Herman to create one of the most endearing musicals “from way back when”, by inviting audiences to say “Hello, Dolly”! Enlivened by such unforgettable songs as “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, “Before the Parade Passes By”, “It Only Takes A Moment”; and of course, the show-stopping title number, Herman’s Tony Award winning score is consistently smart and jovial—even spritely at times. Based on Thornton Wilder’s classic “The Matchmaker”, this is an exuberant tale of turn-of-the-century (–or 1895 to be exact) New York, introducing us to the irascible widowed matchmaker, “Dolly Gallagher Levi” who, we’re told, has ‘always been a woman who arranges things for the pure and simple profit it derives”; however, after ‘putting her hand in’ to cunningly negotiate marriages for others, through a series of comic romantic entanglements, ultimately finds her own match in a cantankerous “Merchant of Yonkers” (and well-known ‘half a millionaire’) named “Horace Vandergelder”. Although he’s employed her services as a “Marriage Broker” to introduce him to a young widow and owner of a millenary shop named “Irene Malloy”, Dolly has “another woman on her list for him—one whose name she ‘knows as well as her own’!”
Aided by Assistant Director Ryan Ruge, Director Ken Sawyer gets things off to an inventive start with an original prologue that has our Heroine delivering one of her many addresses to her late husband, “Ephraim Levi” concerning how it’s time for her to ‘re-enter the human race’, before Dolly joins the rest of the cast—this time in the rapid-fire opening song from the 1969 big-screen version, titled “Just Leave Everything To Me”. Setting the spirited pace for things to come, not only does this make for a fresh and innovative opening, it gives great indication that this is definitely not going to be the same old “Dolly”! Likewise, beneath all the musical passages, Sawyer’s spot-on direction points to just how first-rate a farce this show has at its core, and he maximizes all the broadest comedic elements available. Add to it, he borrows little touches from Wilder’s original play that really add to this musical’s authenticity! To his further credit, in keeping with something of a tradition at 3D Theatricals’, he takes several songs or characters all-too-commonly overlooked in other versions and builds them up, making for some surprisingly new enjoyable moments as well. One eminent example occurs early on with Vandergelder’s opening ode to domesticity, “It Take A Woman”, in which Sawyer shrewdly and steadily builds momentum, developing some terrific harmony along the way from the supporting players.
The result is a near show-stopper early on! Just after, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” also proves to be an A-Plus group endeavor, while after intermission, the title number is a pure delight (—also featuring some awesome harmonies from the chorus of waiters.) Everything builds to a huge splashy finale such as only a Jerry Herman show can provide! At the same time, Leslie Stevens’ choreography is one more major plus this production can boast. Always lively and clever, she employs numerous styles of dance in the various production numbers—imaginatively re-purposing a few one might not readily think of fore a show set in the 1890s, like combining a jig with a polka in the midst of the vivacious “Dancing” number, instantly making it a fun, frolicsome feel-good interlude; or including a brief but buoyant tap-break for Dolly and her throng of admiring waiters before they all proceed into a dapper kick-line in the lavish titular number. Another uniquely crafty device she implements is dispensing shorter bits of movement to essentially ‘break up’ the longer scenes (This is based on a smaller ‘drawing room’ comedy after all!) most notably in the Harmonia Gardens sequence. So too, the big Act One closer, “Before The Parade passes By” becomes an out-and-out crowd-pleaser (complete with Vandergelder himself marching as part of “The Yonkers Moose Lodge Marching Band”) thanks in large part to these little terpsichorean experiments that pay off in hugely entertaining ways.
Venerably in complete control every second she’s on-stage, Valerie Perri bestows a solid, gold-medal performance as “Dolly Gallagher Levi”. This is something this character absolutely requires and here she doesn’t merely shine, she beams! She’s also gifted with an exceptional talent for an off-the-cuff remark or throw-away line, and this too is an absolute must for a woman like Dolly! Perri also excels with the show’s numerous ‘mini-soliloquys’ that at turns presage her big numbers, wherein she addresses her inner thoughts to Dolly’s late husband thus allowing us to know what’s going on inside her head. Then, there’s her luminous voice to be considered which she readily displays ‘belting it out to the backrow’ as the focal point of such rousing group endeavors as “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, “Dancing”, “Before The Parade Passes By” and the iconic title number, each time she practically gives off sparks surpassing the hopes and expectations by light years! Subsequently, she does an equally laudable job channeling her inner “Al Jolson”—complete with top hat and cane, during her vaudeville-esque final solo, “So Long Dearie” toward the show’s conclusion.
Joining her, Robert Yacko proves to be the perfect foil (who mostly gets foiled) as the stodgy “Hay and Feed Store” Proprietor, “Horace Vandergelder”. Initially convinced just about everybody but himself is a fool, Yacko portrays “Vandergelder” as less of a broadly-drawn hot-head and more a tightly-wound or suppressed man whose paid the price getting where he is and it shows; this conveys a refreshing realism that makes all the outlandish situations that ultimately start happening around him seem that much more gleeful. His long-suffering chief clerk, “Cornelius Hackl” is played by Gary Patent, who gives us an unassuming, much put upon nebbish—but one with a magnificent voice! This he makes clear right from his introductory phrases in “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, as Cornelius and his sidekick, junior clerk “Barnaby Tucker” dare to break free from the daily grind for one day to seek adventure “way beyond this hick-town” in the big city, while their boss is off paying a call on Mrs. Malloy.
Patent also impresses when conferring Hackl’s court-room monologue (still another hold over from the musical’s source-material) right before thrilling us with the scene’s melodic exclamation point—the truly lovely “It Only Takes A Moment”. Meanwhile, Afton Quast—a familiar face on the 3-D Theatrical stages having previously appeared in “Beauty And The Beast” and “Sideshow”, herself triumphs in the role of “Irene Malloy”. Quast particularly makes her mark with “Ribbons Down My Back”—another song that’s too frequently been marginalized (or even omitted) in other versions. Here, she makes it a genuine first act highlight, relaying a sumptuous (and vastly appropriate) ‘dreamy quality’ (also routinely missing from previous renditions.) Later, she scores again with her portion of the second act opener, “Elegance”. Not to be outdone acting-wise either, she dispatches her share of laughs throughout the big Harmonia Gardens sequence, while together, opposite Patent, they give the already sublime “11 o’clock” number “It Only Takes A Moment” a more potent, mesmerizing quality—really elevating it to the majestic level of an ‘aria’ as opposed to just a simple show-tune!
The supporting roles are also right on-target starting with Grace Yoo as Irene’s giddy shop assistant, “Minnie Fay”, who instills “Minnie” with boundless energy (–and just as many giggles,) while Tasha Tormey is also terrific as Vandergeldger’s niece, “Ermengarde”. Both bring much more (and much of it uproariously funny) to these often disregarded characters. What’s more, Bonnie Kovar is similarly worthy of distinction in the decidedly ‘un-distinguished’ role of “Ernestina Simple”—the…uh…‘earthy’ dining companion Dolly sets up for Horace at the Harmonia Gardens. Part “Olive Oyl”, part “Edna Turnblad”—she earns humongous belly-laughs in the course of her relatively few scenes! As for the gentlemen, Chris Villain too, presents a thoroughly likeable “Barnaby Tucker”, and he gets his chance to knock one out of the park with “Dancing”–as Dolly teaches Hackl and Tucker how to ‘trip the light fantastic’ in order to win the ladies over. Villain even demonstrates a few snazzy acrobatic maneuvers there that, frankly, we’d love to see more of! Moreover, Bradley Cashman is more level-headed presences on stage as “Ambrose Kemper”—Ermengarde’s ever patient Artist Boyfriend/Fiancée.
John Iacovelli’s set design is reminiscent of an old Victorian ‘Paper Doll’ house, or like looking at a vintage tintype photograph through the lens of an antique stereopticon. His take on “The Harmonia Garden” (which dominates the show’s latter half) is aptly grand, glittery and graceful, commendably recalling such ‘sophisticated’ ‘Knickerbocker’ establishments that might easily fit into a story by Henry James. Iacovelli’s contribution is effectively enhanced by Jean-Yves Tessier’s equally effervescent lighting—whether bright and festive while illuminating “Before The Parade Passes By” or sparkling and multi-hued as permeates “The Harmonia Garden’s” ‘lights of 14th Street”. Jessica Kuhns’ and Alexandra Johnson’s costumes too, are splendidly colorful, ranging from Irene and Minnie’s stylish “Gibson Girl” inspired Shirtwaist designs, to Cornelius’ more homespun gingham-checked, high-collar ‘go to meeting’ suit, to Dolly’s daring fire-engine red gown for her big ‘staircase number’–complete with a matching feathered head-piece (which, we’re told, none other than Broadway’s original “Dolly”–Carol Channing actually wore!) Not to be discounted either is Musical Director Diane King Vann’s creditable work overseeing the 17 piece orchestra.
‘Call on ‘Dolly’!” She’s the one this critic recommends! Just the antidote for today’s more dire headlines, this also marks one of the final regional presentations of the show (for a while) as a completely new re-envisioning is set to open on Broadway in the spring of 2017, starring Bette Midler in the title role. Back here in 2016 though, now’s the chance to catch one of the most enjoyable productions you will experience all summer “before the parade passes by’! After previewing on Friday, July 15th, “Hello Dolly” ‘officially opened on Saturday, July 16 at the “Plummer Auditorium”, located at 201 E. Chapman Avenue in Fullerton, California, where it is slated to play through Sunday, July 31, 2016. Show-times are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm, with added performances on Thursday, July 28 at 8:00 pm and Saturday, July 30 at 2:00 pm. Afterwards, the show moves to “The Redondo Beach Center For The Performing Arts” located at 1935 E. Manhattan Blvd.in Redondo Beach, California. Show-times for these dates are Friday, August 5, at 8:00 pm Saturday, August 6 at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sunday, August 7th at 2:00 pm. Tickets and reservations for both engagements may be obtained by calling 714 589-2770, Ext. 1, between the hours of 11:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday; 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm on Saturdays; on-line by logging onto www.3dtshows.org , or in person at both location’s theater box-offices two hours prior to performances. (Special Group and Student discounts are available while $20 “Rush” tickets are available one hour before select performances.)
Production Stills By Isaac James Creative (www.IsaacJamesCreative.com) Courtesy Of Michael Sterling & Associates (www.msapr.net) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Michael Sterling, T.J. Dawson, Daniel Dawson, Gretchen Dawson, Ken Sawyer, Ryan Ruge, Leslie Stevens, And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” 2016 Production Of “Hello Dolly!” For Making This Story Possible