Sunday, February 5, 2023

"Hello Dolly!" at the Ritz Theater by Theater Latte Da

Put on your Sunday clothes and head to the Ritz Theater for Theater Latte Da's absolutely joyous production of Hello Dolly! They've set the classic musical in a racially diverse world, which is not untrue to the world of late 19th Century New York, it's just one we don't often see. They've also stripped the typically huge cast and orchestra down to about a third of the size. Though the costumes are scrumptious and the design is charming, there are no trains or trolleys driving across the stage, as seen in the recent Broadway revival and tour. But what this show lacks in size it makes up for in heart and gumption. It's a wonderful new take on a classic that lets the original story and beloved score shine. Hello Dolly! plays Wednesdays through Sundays until March 19, but don't wait too long to get tickets - this one will sell out.

Dolly putting her hand in here and there
(photo by Dan Norman)
It's the late 19th Century in New York City, and
matchmaker/dance teacher/entrepreneur Dolly Levi 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.*

T. Mychael Rambo and Regina Marie Williams as Horace and Dolly
(photo by Dan Norman)
Regina Marie Williams is positively divine as Dolly, so funny and wry, confident in her wheeling and dealing, yet showing vulnerability when Dolly speaks to her beloved late husband. She's the strong center around which the rest of this busy and talented ensemble revolves. T. Mychael Rambo is a lovable grouch as Horace, and when he sings the title song near the end of the show, he melts Dolly's heart, as well as the entire audience's. Reed Sigmund and Brian Kim McCormick make for a delightful comedy duo as Cornelius and Barnaby, with Reed displaying his physical comedy skills, as well as singing "It Only Takes a Moment" for one of the more poignant moments of the show. Also great are China Brickey as Irene (with a lovely rendition of "Ribbons Down My Back"), Anna Hashizume in a humorous turn as her sidekick Minnie, Janely Rodriguez as Horace's daughter (using her gorgeous voice for comic annoyance in Ermengarde's constant wailing), Riley McNutt as Ermengarde's betrothed, Jordan Leggett, Elly Stahlke, and Kyle Weiler as the hardest working three-person dance chorus you've ever seen, and last but not least, #TCTheater great Sally Wingert stealing scenes in a number of character roles. In the same way that Dolly has a dozen or more different jobs, so does this ensemble, as almost all of them don different hats, coats, or mustaches to play different roles and make the chorus feel larger than it is. 

Hello, Dolly! (Regina Marie Williams and the ensemble,
photo by Dan Norman)
Kelli Foster Warder directed and choreographed the show with great joy and energy; it never lags and we never feel like anything's missing despite the smaller ensemble. The dining scene is particularly clever, with the diners hidden behind curtains, so that when Dolly makes her grand entrance, greeted by all of the employees at the Harmonia Gardens, the entire ensemble can put on a waiter's uniform and join in on the number. The choreography is gorgeous, in big and small moments, and in creating some lovely tableaus. And while there are no trains or trolleys driving across the stage, we do have the cast promenading through the audience on several occasions, and that's just as thrilling.

The versatile set, designed by Eli Sherlock, covers many locations. Walls painted in spring green with flowers surround a raised stage area, and two sections of the set on either side rotate to reveal the feed store and hat shop, doubling as the dining rooms in the second act. The four-piece band, under the direction of Music Director Sandford Moore, is somewhat visible through a door and window on the right side, under a sign that says "Moore's Music Emporium." This familiar and beloved score sounds fantastic in this smaller arrangement, with more of a chamber or jazzy feel.

The Chanhassen's longtime costume designer Rich Hamson has created a stunning array of colorful dresses with bustles, ruffles, and flounces, plus matching hats that are the biggest thing about this show (besides its heart). The men also look lovely in their smart suits. Add to that the various waiters, cops, and other costumes, and there's a lot of quick changing going on. And a shout-out to wig designer Emma Gustafson for the women's period updos that are so lovely, it's almost a shame to cover them with hats.

This is the Hello Dolly! we've loved for decades, done in a smaller, scrappy, inventive way to create Dolly's big bold world with less, and with a diverse cast that better represents the world as it is now and as it was then. The program includes an article about Black-owned businesses at this time in history, and another that highlights Black entrepreneurs of today (timely for Black History Month). When I first heard Theater Latte Da was doing Hello Dolly! this season, I thought it was an odd choice for a company that focuses on new work and moving the genre of music-theater forward into the future. But that's exactly what this production does - shows us a way to do a 60-year-old classic in a way that represents and speaks to today's world, without changing what we love about it.

See this joyous Hello Dolly! now through March 19, and to learn more about the story behind this show, see #TCTheater artist and music-theater history afficionado Max Wojtanowicz's edutainment show "The Pin Spot Series" on February 13.

the cast of Hello Dolly! (photo by Dan Norman)


Join me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers for a special event at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres! Get $20 off the ticket price for the March 4 matinee performance of the regional premiere of the super fun and heart-warming musical THE PROM, and stick around after the show for a talk-back with some of the cast. Find more info in the Facebook event here, and purchase discount tickets using code TCTB1 or by clicking on this link (discount valid for March 4 1pm performance only).