Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Hello Dolly!" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Everyone loves Dolly. The title character of the popular musical Hello Dolly! is a matchmaker, dance teacher, entrepreneur - basically a woman who knows how to get things done. She "puts her hand in" here and there, and makes people's lives better with her helpful manipulative ways. You can't help but love her, and you can't help but love the Chanhassen's shiny new production of this 50 year old musical. It's charmingly old-fashioned, with a fantastic cast from the lead to the supporting players to every last member of the ensemble, wonderful dance numbers, gorgeous period costumes with those all important extravagant hats, and familiar music beautifully played by the orchestra. It's silly and fun and adventurous - a grand old time.

It's the late 19th Century in New York City, and Dolly is tired of working to make everyone else's lives better at the expense of her own. She decides to marry the noted "half a millionaire" Horace Vandergelder, and asks her beloved deceased husband for a sign to move on. In order to catch the gentleman, who is one of her clients, she sabotages the other matches. He's supposed to marry the widow Irene Molloy, owner of a hat shop, but Dolly quickly squashes that. Instead Irene falls in love with Horace's employee Cornelius who, along with his friend Barnaby, has come to New York City for an adventure. Said adventures include a parade, a dinner they can't pay for, a quick trip to jail, and falling in love. But this is Dolly's story, and when Dolly decides she wants something, she gets it, for better or worse.

Highlights of the show include:
the mother/daughter act - Michelle Barber
as Dolly and Cat Brindisi as Irene
  • As I said, this is Dolly's show, and Michelle Barber owns the role and ably leads the show. The highlight is Dolly's moment "Before the Parade Passes By," her declaration to live her life to the fullest. But another wonderful moment is the title song, when Dolly is being serenaded by singing waiters. Michelle is so easy and comfortable in the role as she makes her way across the stage and through the audience, shaking hands, kissing my table-mate on the head, sharing little asides and knowing winks with the audience. She just is Dolly.
  • The Chanhassen has always been a family affair, and never moreso than in this show. Michelle's husband, by the way, is the Chan's Artistic Director and director of this show, Michael Brindisi. And their daughter, Cat Brindisi, is making her adult debut on the stage on which she grew up, after proving that this is no act of nepotism with brilliant turns in such shows as Aida and Hair (by a theater company she co-founded). As Irene Molloy (a role her mother played the last time the Chan did this show), Cat is strong and spirited, and provides a quiet, lovely moment in the otherwise busy and high energy show with the song "Ribbons Down My Back." As my companion said, I only wish she had a chance to sing more.
  • "It Only Takes a Moment" to fall in love with Tyler Michaels and his unique performance style, and if you haven't already done so in one of his previous appearances, most recently as the Emcee in Cabaret, Prince Eric in the The Little Mermaid, or Freddie in My Fair Lady, you will here. Watching him dance badly as Dolly teaches Cornelius to dance is more fun than watching most people dance well. He brings an awkward grace and boundless enthusiasm to the role of this young man who's determined to have the night of his life.
the boss and his hard-working employees
(Keith Rice, Adam Moen, and Tyler Michaels)
  • Who else but Keith Rice, a longtime favorite at the Chan, could play Horace? Even though "It Takes a Woman" may be the most sexist song in musical theater history, it's somehow almost charming coming out of the mouth and person of Keith Rice. The last time I saw Helly Dolly! I did not get the appeal of Horace at all, but I do now. Of course no man is quite good enough for our Dolly, but he'll do.
  • Several actors shine in smaller roles. As second fiddle Barnaby, Adam Moen holds his own with Tyler and is quite charming himself, and the two often dance and move in perfect unison. Jessica Fredrickson is sweet and adorable as Irene's assistant and friend, and as Horace's niece Ermengarde, Krysti Wiita wails perfectly on pitch. As per usual, Kersten Rodau steals her few brief scenes as Horace's (mis) match Ernestina, turning her beautifully powerful voice into something hilariously grating.
  • All elements of the production are top-notch, from Tamara Kangas Erickson's choreography perfectly and precisely performed by the ensemble (oh, those dancing waiters!), to Rich Hamson's gorgeous costumes (spats! hats! gowns!), to the simple set by Nayna Ramey that lets the show shine, to Andrew Cooke's always wonderful onstage orchestra (with banjo!).
This fun, charming, entertaining, perfectly cast, and well performed classic musical plays all winter. The weather may be getting colder, but it's always warm and pleasant at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres*. Dolly will never go away again... until February, when Mary Poppins takes her place.

the cast of Helly Dolly! (all photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp)

*If you happen to go in the next month or so, you should also head over to the Arboretum for TigerLion Arts' lovely and poignant outdoor walking play Nature, about the friendship of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.