The delightfully meddlesome world of Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, the matchmaking busybody of 1890s New York who can incite applause by her sheer presence and reputation, comes alive with lighthearted warmth and sophisticated finesse in Cedarville University’s exceptional production of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s 1964 musical “Hello, Dolly!,” adapted from Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker” and elegantly directed by Robert and Ruth Clements.
Pleasantly interpreting Herman’s sunny songs along the lines of an actress who sings, Jessica Diane Hickling, a superb Annie Sullivan in Cedarville’s production of “The Miracle Worker” last season, astutely inhabits the title role with a strikingly clear and cunning grasp of Dolly’s meticulous and strategic aims centered on her desire to wed wealthy Yonkers curmudgeon Horace Vandergelder (a believably aggravated Alexander James Mol). Hickling is a knockout whenever Dolly’s mind games take precedence, especially in the hilarious Act 2 dinner scene at the ritzy Harmonia Gardens restaurant, and she expertly builds her funny, sincere and incredibly engaging portrayal to a life-affirming plateau that duly reflects Dolly’s inspirational epiphany of living to the fullest and being willing to love again after years of merely existing in “a personal haze.”
“Dolly” has always required a strong leading lady, but stronger featured portrayals as well which is absolutely the case here. The very endearing, brotherly duo of Gabriel Pyle and Josiah Hutchings respectively shine as Vandergelder’s humble, sheltered employees Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker. Pyle, a charming bundle of nerves and a joy to watch, wonderfully conveys Cornelius’ newfound confidence and rebelliousness, and also crafts an adorable romance with sweet soprano Anna Zavodney as millinery shop owner Irene Molloy. He notably joins Zavodney for a lovely rendition of “It Only Takes a Moment,” poignantly delivering the tune’s terrific monologue with an expressive self-awareness. The energetic, goofy Hutchings provides great comic relief and is perfectly matched with the bubbly Lindsay McGee as Minnie Fay, Irene’s perky assistant. The laughs continue with solid work from Joshua McLeod as Ambrose Kemper, Grace Pilet as Ermengarde, Amy Brown as Ernestina, Benjamin Isaac as Rudolph, Samantha Sumler as Mrs. Rose and Matthew Glenn Scheerschmidt as an overly emotional Judge.
Further, Katy Russell and Alexandra Turner supply flavorful, sharp and unified choreography from the pageantry of “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and the farcical “Motherhood March” to the waltz-filled “Dancing” and the frenzied “Waiter’s Gallop” that precedes the iconic title number which arises with considerable flair.
In addition to directing, the Clements are respectively responsible for the production’s outstanding set and costume design. Robert supplies a dazzling chandelier for Harmonia Gardens, and Ruth’s marvelously authentic contributions remain eye-catching at every turn. For the ensemble-friendly “Sunday Clothes” she specifically dresses the ladies in a colorful sea of blue, burgundy, green, pink, purple and yellow and places the men in crisp white tuxedos.
In a rare move for a big, brassy show geared toward a large orchestra, Herman’s score, conducted by Beth Cram Porter, is played by only four musicians (two pianos, percussion and bass). Even so, this significant alteration gives each number a surprisingly appealing parlor quality proving how effectively Herman captured the essence of the late 19th century.
A hit from start to finish, Cedarville’s thoroughly entertaining “Dolly” is not only the must-see of the week, but one of the best productions of the season.
Hello, Dolly! continues through Saturday, February 12 in the Stevens Student Center at Cedarville University, 251 N. Main St., Cedarville. Performances are Thursday at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $10-$15. For tickets or more information, call 1-866-612-0014 or visit www.cedarville.edu. In related news, Cedarville’s 2011-12 season will consist of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (October 2011), Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (February 2012) and Neil Simon’s A Star-Spangled Girl (April 2012).