I must admit that I'm ill qualified to judge the quality of the Reagle's Dolly on a comparison scale of Dollies professional and amateur. Except for the Barbra Streisand movie, I'd never seen the musical before. My impression of the oft told story was formed by Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker", a wise as well as charming play studded with verbal gems such as "Being employed is like being loved: you know that somebody's thinking about you the whole time". "The Matchmaker" is, I believe, about balance: between profit and pleasure; between empathy and objectivity; between stability and adventure. I've seen "The Matchmaker" whenever it is on offer at a price I can afford. Dolly Gallegher Levi Vandergelder is a character I love.
Now, "Hello Dolly" is certainly a celebration of a lovable Dolly. But the odd thing about the musical is that it seems to have been shaped around a Dolly who will be loved in a nostalgic way, for what the performer has been and what she has done in some other incarnation-- not for was she says and does in the story told on stage. Dolly of the musical has a symbiotic relationship with the audience beyond the the dimensions of the Wilder character, and must be played by somebody who was a star, has suffered eclipse, and is now "..back where you belong." "Hello, Dolly!" turns out to be about excess rather than balance. Dolly's eating business in the scene at the Harmonia Gardens Cafe celebrates gluttony rather than pleasure, and Dolly's runway turn with the huge male staff serving as backup celebrates adulation rather empathy. I have no idea what the many high schools who put the show on do to fill the lead: cast an idolized Ms. Chips from the faculty? Cast the homecoming queen? Whatever, Jo Anne Worley has the requisite baggage to fill the starring role. Her Dolly struts possessively around the runway built out over the orchestra pit and the audience bursts into applause, as if it were some sort of miracle that this woman is there in person, doing her assertive walk as the focus of a complicated athletic dance routine performed by a bevy of starstruck male dancers. It's not really a miracle, of course. Worley is a thoroughgoing professional, with precise and elegant comic timing, a flexible powerful voice, and a long list of stage credits beyond the fleeting TV fame that fuels the nostalgic heat.
Ross' Vandergelder is likable enough to be worth Dolly's improvement, and beastly enough to really need it. The supporting leads, Equity artists Elizabeth Walsh as the widowed milliner Irene Molloy and Scott Willis as Vandergelder's oppressed clerk, Cornelius Hackle, are perfection. It is impossible to watch them and wish anything other than that they will grow together and as live happily ever after as they deserve.
The next-level supporting role of Minnie Fay, Mrs. Molloy's silly young assistant, is played by a local community theatre veteran and recent Bedford High School graduate Meredith Campbell. Campbell is young enough, and silly enough -- but she brings on stage with her the impression that this silly young girl is only a fraction of the person performing the part, an actress brimming with promise and ready for greater challenges. I must admit that this is the impression I hope to get from any character in a Wilder play-- that every one of us is bigger and better than the part fate and our failings have allotted us. The last pair of lovers, with the smallest ration of lines, are also played by very talented high school students, Kristin Fehlau and Matthew Shea. Fehlau and Shea are very good, though why the adaptors pared down the pair of lovers from misguidedly idealistic young adults to whining minors is a mystery to me. Mary Callahan shines as Earnestina, and Reagle favorite R. Glen Michell supplies an expert cameo turn as the Judge.
The Reagle's mixed chorus of singers, who are limited in this show to parading through the scene in Freddy Wittop's lavish costumes a couple of times, produce a ravishing tone-- the Reagle techies have finally figured out how to amplify a balanced sound-- and the Reagle dancers, sparked by choreographer/dancer George Livengood, are flat-out spectacular. There seems to be a whole new set of young male dancers doing Gower Champion's routines, who also prove themselves first rate as a male vocal chorus in the show stopping number in Act II. Jeffrey Leonard's pit orchestra seemed to have some trouble with tuning as they were getting started, but by the second number or so they were in the groove and making the score sound better than it deserves.