Hello, Dolly! Book by Michael Stewart, Songs by Jerry Herman, based on The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. Directed by Doug Hodge.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
". . . wonderful woman!"
In my time I have seen the following women play Dolly Gallagher Levi: Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Martha Raye, Betty Hutton, Pearl Bailey, Shirley Booth, Ethel Merman, Bibi Osterwald, Barbra Streisand and Fang’s wife Phyllis Diller (the less said of this the better). I always thought that Mae West would have been ideal in the role, but, alas, she never played it. Now, in Chatham, New York, we have Monica M. Wemitt in the part at the MacHaydn Theatre. It has been said of Ms. Wemitt that she not only stood-by for Miss Channing in the role during the 1995-96 revival (she was playing Ernestina - the blind date for Horace Vandergelder), but actually took it on when Carol C. was indisposed.
Ms. Wemitt is very much up to the role with her acting as Dolly Levi. She is less well-suited to it vocally. Wemitt has an odd "break" in her voice where she goes from chest voice to head voice and this score rocks her back and forth across that line once too often. She recovers quickly from the change, but there is no smooth transition and she goes out of tune a bit. However, this only happens in her first number, and "Motherhood." The break adds years to her age, false ones I’m sure, but they are noticeable.
Where she shines is in her acting She comes the closest to that Mae West ideal I carry in my head. She winks, saunters, engages the audience with a sly look. She puts people in their place and makes them cherish the moment. She brings a vibrant reality to the part that is so very lace-curtain Irish crossed with lower east side Jewish that she makes her Dolly irresistible. You want to reach out as she passes and giver her all your money, your umbrella and your ticket stub so she can claim a refund at the box office. This is everything a Dolly needs to be; she must make you want to behave her way, do what she wishes. In this Wemitt succeeds more completely than anyone on my list above. Especially Ms. Diller (who really wasn’t bad, just strange).
Jim Kidd, about whom I know very little, plays the man she sets her sights on, Horace the misanthrope. He is loud and blustery, rather than gruff and solemn. Playing opposite Wemitt’s gregarious Dolly, this version of Horace is an excellent quarry for the huntress.
Karla Shook does an admirable job with Irene Malloy, Horace’s intended who actually prefers his clerk over the boss. She sings especially sweetly in the second act song "It Only Takes a Moment."
Mary Elizabeth Milton does nicely as Minnie Fay and Wesley Urish is more than her match as Barnaby Tucker, the underclerk in Horace’s store in Yonkers. Tara Tagliaferro is not ugly enough to make me believe her Ernestina Money and Andrea Doto is non-stop unnerving as the crying Ermengarde. Her boyfriend, Ambrose, is nicely played by Ryan Michael Owens. Quinto Ott is excellent as Reisenweber.
A standout performance is given by Jason Whitfield as Cornelius Hackle, the clerk Irene Malloy falls for. His sincerity and warmth are special and his very stylish manner in "Elegance" was most welcome. The lively tempo of this second act opener was much appreciated and Whitfield’s posture and movement seemed to inspire the others in the quartet with only Shook seeming stiff and over-rehearsed.
Had the tempo of that number been applied to some of the first act songs, the show would have had the much needed sparkle and drive it lacked in the act one, in particular to "I Put My Hand In" and "Before the Parade Passes By," both of which were slow-drag in their performance.
Under the keen eye of director Doug Hodge, this company performs very well and though Wemitt rarely ever faced section two, where I was seated, the overall sense of directionality was aptly applied.
Jimm Halliday’s costumes were superb, some of the best I’ve seen anywhere this season. Dane Kenn’s overly childlike set decoration and design threatened to ruin the effects wrought everywhere else.
The music is...what the MacHaydn produces: twin kurzweil keyboards electronically registering sound in pitch, but not much else. This is another key where too little is exactly that. TOO. LITTLE.
People around me enjoyed every minute of the show. I had a good time and my rafter-rocking laughter distracted a young girl in the row ahead of mine. Take that as a recommendation but don’t blame me if not everything suits you here. After all this is "Hello, Dolly!" and not "Gotterdamerung."
Hello, Dolly! plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre at 1925 Route 203 just north of Route 66 in Chatham, New York through July 5. Ticket prices range from $12 to $28. For information or reservations call the box office at 518-392-9292.