“Out There! There’s a world outside of Yonkers–way out there beyond this ‘hick town’, Barnaby! There’s a slick town, Barnaby!” Thus sings “Cornelius Hackl”—the hapless, mild-mannered thirty-three-year-old Chief Clerk to the wealthy “Horace Vandergelder”, who, along with his equally clueless young cohort, “Barnaby Tucker”, proposes they (at least temporarily) throw off their work-a-day shackles in favor of what they imagine will be a ‘daring trek’ to “New York City” in order to “find adventure in the evening air”—culminating with their promise that they “won’t come home until they’ve kissed a girl”, at the outset of “Hello Dolly!” Hailed as a bona-fide American Musical Theater classic at its very finest, this Bonanza of family-friendly fun and extravaganza of entertainment is “One More Productions” summer offering at the landmark “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove California. Featuring a Tony Award-winning score by theater legend Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart (based on Playwright Thornton Wilders’ iconic stage-farce “The Matchmaker”) since its debut in 1964, “Hello Dolly!” has entertained and entranced audiences worldwide–and along the way, garnered 15 Tony Awards (counting those for the recent award-winning revival starring Bette Midler and David Hyde-Pierce,) while the blockbuster film adaptation starring Barbra Streisand in the title role won three Academy Awards (–not least of which being for “Best Adapted Score”.) The Direction this time around at “The Gem” is by “One More Productions” Co-Founder Damien Lorton with Choreography by Heather Smith and Alan Collins.
Taking place in New York City just before the turn of the 20th century, this time-honored tale introduces us to “Mrs. Dolly Levi”–a widow, professional ‘Matchmaker’ and an all-around meddler (“I put my hand in here, and twist a little, stir a little, Him a little, Her a little; Shape a little, mold a little–Some poor chap gets ‘sold’ a little; When I use my fist a little, some young bride gets kissed a little–pressure with the thumbs: Matrimony comes! When, I put my hand in there!” She exults in her inaugural ditty.) But everything changes once she decides that the next match she needs to make is for herself, and the one she’s set her sights on is one “Horace Vandergelder” a prominent “Half-a-Millionaire” and successful Merchant of Yonkers, New York. In the process, she helps three other unlikely couples—including Vandergelder’s own 17 year-old niece, “Ermengarde”, and his two shop clerks, “Cornelius Hackl” and “Barnaby Tucker” to find love and romances of their own such as only little she could furnish.
Calling on the talents of twenty-nine supremely adept performers, their collective enterprise and abilities all aid immeasurably in making this “Hello, Dolly!” a genuinely blithe, boisterous, and buoyant bit of convivial craziness from the basic, precursory notes of the overture to the final bows. (They also remind us exactly why audiences have loved this show for the last 60 years!) With a score that boasts such memorable songs as “Before the Parade Passes By”, “It Only Takes a Moment”, “Ribbons Down My Back”, “Put on Your Sunday Clothes”–and the unforgettable title number, “Hello, Dolly!”, on opening night, Producer-Director Lorton informed those in attendance that with this, One More Productions celebrates 14 years in business—with ten of them in residence at “The Gem”. While offering a fairly traditional take on this old favorite, Lorton and his Actors nonetheless incorporate a few delightful surprises along the way, many of them taken directly from, or referencing the show’s ‘source material’, Thornton Wilder’s classic comedy, “The Matchmaker”. In fact, Lorton’s overall ‘take’ on the show borrows much from Wilder’s heavily stylized play as much as it does Librettist Michael Stewart’s re-envisioning (which is pretty smart and witty itself.) Like in that original 1955 stage-satire (–a rewrite of one of the renowned Humorist’s earlier unsuccessful works,) we have many of the character’s addressing the audience outright with quick asides or even somewhat longer monologues–most lifted from the non-musical play. Either way, it works amazingly well giving numerous sequences the feel of an authentic Vaudeville sketch so popular back in those days. Case-in-Point, the sublimely amusing “Hat Shop” scene when “Dolly” and “Vandergelder” burst in on Proprietresses “Irene Malloy” and “Minnie Fay” as they’re trying vainly to hide the fact that “Cornelius” and “Barnaby” are secreted away in the shop’s main-salon. Once he discovers this perceived ‘impropriety’, “Horace’s” arrogance and self-righteousness are palpable—and quite funny to watch! Lorton’s skilled touch also cultivates the maximum comedic potential from that scene’s principal number, the manic “Motherhood March”.
The choreographic duties are shared by Heather Smith and Alan Collins who consolidate vibrant stretches of dance and movement—quite a lot of it arguably among the very best “The Gem Theatre” has seen in several seasons! Commencing right away with the dance section of “I Put My Hand In”, the danseurs and danseuses are set into motion cleverly referencing the whole ‘matchmaking’ subtext, with the result in many places coming-off like a sporty “Sadie Hawkins Day” blow-out, as couples pair-off for some stunning ballet-inspired combinations and lavish footwork. Shortly after, the men in chorus provide some awesome exuberance (and A-Plus vocal backing) for Vandergelder’s pontifical chanson “It Takes A Woman”; then, with “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”—the first ‘Big” production number–they paint pristine stage-pictures of quiet grace and sophistication (even inserting a brief, but smart ‘soft shoe’ phase into the proceedings,) culminating with the company gathered around our leading lady and her hopeful entourage with Ambrose and Ermengarde even poised atop a baggage cart looking much like a Bride and Groom on the top of a wedding cake! Subsequently, “Dancing” (as “Dolly” teaches “Cornelius” and “Barnaby” how to ‘trip the light fantastique’ –with an emphasis on plenty of tripping along the way,) originates as an intimate five-person effort, before it swiftly swells into still another grand and glorious group endeavor that could fittingly be described as an often mesmerizing motherlode of masterful moves. Yet, right before the act-break the athletic cavorting and bold gymnastic gamboling infused into “Before The Parade Passes By” could be reason alone to rush out and catch this one—it even overflows the stage and out into the aisles! Post-intermission, the “Waiters Gallop” (once the action takes us inside the illustrious “Harmonia Gardens”–where most of the show’s remaining half takes place,) is portioned out in smaller increments essentially dividing the various scenes that are (supposedly) transpiring simultaneously in two private dining rooms on either side of the stage; taken as a whole though, it manages to dazzle on all accounts. Moreover, the oft-mentioned “Polka Contest” that follows (with one or two nods to ‘The Charleston’ thrown in,) is where all Hell breaks loose consequent to “Horace Vandergelder’s” ultimate discovery of his niece, her beau, his clerks and their ladies (–one of them his former intended) is a droll and dexterous interlude showcasing how Smith and Collins can even embrace and exhibit humor through dance. The finale, after all the couples are united and poised for their personal and distinctive “Happily Ever Afters”, is comprised of a quick medley of all the show’s choicest melodies, while the actual curtain-calls favor a series of sporty tableaux that fade into the individual, then full-cast “bows”.
Adriana Sanchez adds to her recent list of stage triumphs at “The Gem” with what could arguably be her even more stellar turn as “Dolly Levi”! Steeped so heavily in the work of distinguished Playwright Thornton Wilder, “Dolly Gallagher Levi” has long been considered a pinnacle of roles for any actress or actress singer, and Sanchez categorically hits all the right notes while trotting out her superior comedic ‘chops’, making this notorious matchmaking meddler, as energetic and even jubilant at times; at the other end of the spectrum though, she’s never so over the top that she stops being refreshingly believable! Portentously reminding us in her introductory scene that she’s “out to knock off four lovebirds with one stone”, she similarly gives the introductory monologue leading into “Before The Parade Passes By” a heartfelt, but insistent drive, building up into one irrepressible knock out of a group endeavor. Sanchez also heroically mines the most laughs out of the scene immediately following “Dolly’s” rousing ‘return’ to the Harmonia Gardens as she joins the hapless “Horace” for some ‘unexpected’ dinner repartee, (sometimes with exhilarating subtly other times not so much so,) while setting about the task of putting ideas into his petulant-but-befuddled head regarding their future together as man and wife. Not to be overlooked either is “Dolly’s” parting salvo, “So Long Dearie” for which she again pulls out all the vocal stops; however, Ariana’s true optimal moment is of course the dynamic title “staircase” number—complete with the built-in encore.
Something of a trademark in all of Jerry Herman’s shows, here, she gets underway easily–crooning the initial few lines, but allowing momentum to steadily build in power and efficacy, backed by the bevy of eager-to-please ‘Waiters’ who again evince some incredible harmony! (Oh, and her sprawling feathered “Head-dress” worn as part of this is ‘adequate’–to say the least!) Tim Klega also is a knockout as Yonker’s hot-headed “Half-A-Millionaire”, “Horace Vandergelder”. If Hyde-Pierce (who recreated Yonker’s best known Curmudgeon for Broadway’s latest version) could be accused (or credited) with ‘borrowing’ many of the inflections or mannerisms of Walter Matthau (who played him the big-screen adaption,) Klega could just as well be praised for making this character entirely his own! Yes, he’s a bitter old grouch, but now and again we’re allowed to catch glimpses of the upstanding and admired business and community leader he COULD be; without this, one would wonder what our “Dolly” could ever see in him, let alone be so gladdened by his eventual ‘redemption’. While he’s essentially the focal point of only one major number—the slyly cynical “It Takes A Woman”, he does a remarkable job all the same, setting us up with a firm understanding of this “Vandergelder” really is and what makes him tick.
Joining them is Josh Curtis-Switzer as “Cornelius Hackl”. With boyish good-looks and a Middle-America kind of charisma, Switzer gives us “Cornelius” as a frenetic and frustrated everyman who’s major life goal it seems is to have one evening off from his unending (and completely unrewarded) task of managing Vandergelder’s “Hay And Feed” store. Comparably gifted with a stupendous voice and smooth, mellow, song styling ability, he reveals this early on with his introductory verses of “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”; but he also makes his substantial mark in the second act to boot—both on the singing and acting fronts. Aiding him immensely in this latter category is the way Director Lorton has integrated “Cornelius’ courtroom monologue culled from “The Matchmaker”, positioning it as an intro, for our boy “Hackl’s” big “11 O’Clock” mesmerizer, “It Only Takes A Moment”. One of the most recognizable love ballads in this or any show, Switzer valiantly invests all his charm and smooth-as-velvet phrasing (not to mention some proportionately sumptuous money-notes,) into his rendition making it more than worth the wait! Right beside most of the time is Jacob Wayne as his youthful sidekick “Barnaby Tucker”. A self-admitted “Actor-Singer” Wayne also succeeds with the more rhythmical requirements of his portrayal too, proving to be an exceptional dancer. Adding a keen sense of vigor and callow enthusiasm to numbers like “It Takes A Woman”, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, “Elegance” and “Dancing”, he especially takes center-stage in this latter outing after the ‘Dance Lesson” Dolly gives Cornelius and him: “Glide and step, and then step and glide–and everyone stand aside!” the lad exults (–see him and you just may be exulting in his remarkable agility too!)
The ladies within this troupe are also every inch as polished as the gents—principal amongst them is Erika Baldwin, also increases her already copious list of stage victories treading the boards at “The Gem”, as the winsome widow-turned-milliner, “Irene Malloy”. Gifted with a truly breathtaking voice of her own, she gives “Mrs. Malloy’s” hallmark number, “Ribbons Down My Back” a delectably dreamy treatment making it a definite high point of Act One. Set to a faraway, almost ‘wraith-like’ orchestration that recalls a faintly recollected carousel calliope tune or faded refrain r half-remembered from a far off county fair, THIS is what the song is about: one woman’s girlish memory of romance with a fascinated, vaguely articulated anticipation that she might find it again. Together with Switzer, the pair undoubtedly make for the show’s most mellifluous-sounding couple, making their shared verses of “It Only Takes A Moment” positively electric! Taking off the part of her perky, energetic (even hyperkinetic) shop assistant “Minnie Fay”, Kelly Rosales too, makes her brilliant mark under a flame-colored wash of auburn curls, and looking like a lovely porcelain doll from the era. Making her preliminary entrance from the side stage-right auditorium doorway, “Motor-mouth Minnie” handily keeps the audience occupied with her bubbly chatter amidst the scene-change ensuing the stage’s transformation into Irene Malloy’s “Hat Shop”. Switzer, Baldwin, Wayne and Rosales kick-off Act Two as the newly paired “Cornelius” and “Irene”, Barnaby” with “Minnie”, making their way to the famous “Harmonia Gardens” and an evening of “Elegance”. Convincing the ladies that extremely ‘chic’ people forgo fancy carriages in favor of walking, along the way the quartet treat us to some spirited maneuvers and stylish stepping that works its genial brand of magic in double-time—with a further hilarious tag that comes about as our foursome are exhausted and rightfully winded from their long ‘excursion’ to get to the restaurant!
The supporting players seen here too, are each strong in their own rights–if with slightly briefer, or more ‘specialized stage-time’. Foremost of these are Peter Crisafulli who makes for a prim, (but never ‘stodgy’) Artist “Ambrose Kemper”, who is paired opposite Hanna Gomez as his ‘intended’, “Ermengarde”. Together they enrich much of the dance sequences—even taking the spot-light in more than a few of them. Likewise, Ms. Gomez also shrewdly knows how to build a laugh or enhance comic reaction to garner the maximum results from it! Carmen Tunis also practically makes ‘brassiness’ into an elevated art form as “Dolly’s” faux “Matrimonial-Candidate” for Horace–a so-called ‘Heiress” named “Ernestina Money”. Offering to trot the appalled “Vandergelder” out on the dance floor to show him how she does the “Hootchy-Kootchy” he snaps: “Vandergelder’s do NOT dance Miss Money! We’re Presbyterians!” Meanwhile, “Rudolph Reisenweber”—the headstrong headwaiter at “The Harmonia Gardens” is played with deliciously ‘over the top’ aplomb by Jon Mitchell. Done up like “Rich Uncle Penny Bags” (from your old “Monopoly” game,) he gamely gives us a far more than simply a one-note, one-off Germanic stereotype, instead providing us glimpses of “Rudy” as the self-appointed guardian of this exalted eateries’ reputation—and why he believes the strict status quo MUST be upheld. Incidentally, Mitchell has enjoyed making this production something of a ‘family’ affair, as his daughter Megan also appears in the cast! Speaking of family, also worthy of mention is “Dance Captain” Levi Curtis-Switzer, who ranks among the most dexterous of the male dance ensemble, adding plenty of eye-popping excitement, athleticism–and yes, even astonishment to many of the musical numbers.
Wally Huntoon’s breezy sets are built around several slatted wood-lattice borders that literally frame the goings-on, while making use of several key set pieces which are rolled on and off, more ‘suggesting’ a given location (Vandergelder’s “Hay & Feed”, Irene Malloy’s “Hat Shop”, “The Harmonia Gardens”—festooned with hanging chandeliers and flowing staircase, just name a few,) rather than firmly establishing it. Providing these ‘visual cues’ gives spectators the chance to fill in any ‘gaps’ for themselves making for a more imaginative and interactive (mentally anyway) viewing experience. So too, Ramzi Jneid and Larry Watt’s snazzy turn-of-the-century fashions (many of them itemized in “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”) make unrestrained use of vivacious color, particularly reds and lavenders, and they aren’t averse to skirting outlandishness to make a memorable point (Dolly’s hats and head-pieces for instance.) So down-right opulent are these that it wouldn’t be too startling to learn (nor too out of line to assert) that the clothing budget for this show could very well account for half of the budget! It’s money put to outstanding use though—happily, each bit of apparel chosen is astonishing to see, and all do much to set the ‘times” in which the story occurs, in addition to promoting the persistently cheerful ‘anything good can happen at any moment’ mood so integral to its message. By the same token, Sarah Resch’s corresponding multi-hued lighting design also goes a long way in painting bright, effervescent, pictures of colorful illumination and tinted shade, thus also contributing enormously to that aforementioned theme of unbridled optimism that runs through each of the on-stage shenanigans being played out before us (Plus, there’s something so enigmatic about magenta-purple shadows seeping across the footlights as seen during the Entr’acte!)
A fun and facetious time at theater if ever there was one, “get out your Feathers, your Patent Leathers, your Beads and Buckles and Bows, ‘cause there’s no ‘Blue Monday” –over at “The Gem Theatre”! Having ‘officially’ opened on Saturday, July 14th, “Hello Dolly!” is set to play through Sunday, August 5th 2018 at “The Gem Theatre” located at: 12852 on historic Main Street in Garden Grove CA. Showtimes are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM; Tickets for all performances may be obtained by calling (714) 741-9550, ext. 221, or on-line by logging onto: http://www.onemoreproductions.com. (ADA seating is available upon request. Special “Student Rush” tickets with a valid Student I.D. may be purchased thirty minutes before curtain for Thursday and Friday Performances. Ticket discounts for Groups, Seniors 60 and over, & Children under 12 are also available for this engagement.)
Production Stills By Lisa Scarsi, Courtesy Of Shoko Araki And “One More Productions” (www.OneMoreProductions.com) Special Thanks To Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, Lisa Scarsi, Shoko Araki, Heather Smith, Alan Collins And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Gem Theatre” and One More Productions’ 2018 Production Of “Hello Dolly!” For Making This Story Possible.