Every year the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company presents at least one classic old favorite and this year it is “Hello, Dolly,” which opened Tuesday at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway, N.H. and will be performed daily, except Monday, through Aug. 30.
Having not seen “Holly, Dolly” in any form, I came to this production a newbie not really sure what to expect and, admittedly, a bit skeptical. I was ultimately won over by the big, bright, buoyant production.
“Hello, Dolly” is based on the play “The Matchmaker,” which itself was based on the play “Merchant of Yonkers,” the source material of which can be traced back to an 1835 English play titled “A Day Well Spent.”
That’s a lot of reworking, and you’d think by the time it became “Hello, Dolly” the material would’ve been become overly diluted. That was not the case, and the 1964 production of “Hello, Dolly” starring Carol Channing went on to win 10 Tony Awards.
The role of Dolly Levi, a matchmaker and self-proclaimed meddler with a business card for every possible need, has been played by such greats as Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Ethel Merman and Barbara Streisand in the 1969 film version. Elyse Wolf, who takes on the role on the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse stage, makes a first-rate addition to that list.
Wolf has a commanding stage presence and an easy rapport with the audience, which she addresses on several occasions. Her dry, rapid fire delivery of the show's many one liners is impeccable. Wolf has a powerhouse voice that is showcased throughout the production, but most prominently on the showstopping title song.
Set in New York in 1890, the story focuses on Dolly’s elaborate schemes to wed the half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (Wolf’s real-life husband, Scott Davidson, who proposed to her on the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse stage in 1996). This takes some juggling, with Dolly presenting other options first in an attempt to make herself look all the more luminous.
Davidson recalls Walter Matthau, who played the role in the film, in terms of presence, inflection and attitude. His gruff interaction with the more cheery ensemble around him creates a nice comedic tension. Wolf and Davidson’s real-life chemistry transfers onto the stage well and has the audience rooting for them to get together.
Into the mix are added Cornelius Hackl (Chris Handley) and Barnaby Tucker (Matthew Patrick), clerks in Horace’s shop who sneak into the city instead of minding the shop. There they meet two hat shop girls, Irene Malloy (Alison Rose Munn) and Minnie Fay (Anna Malone). Confusion ensues in a hilarious scene when Horace visits the same shop to court Miss Malloy.
The Cornelius and Irene romantic subplot is one of the most charming aspects of this production. After watching the film version, I can honestly say Handley is vastly superior in the role than Michael Crawford, who was too broad and hammy to be taken seriously in the more tender moments.
Handley, as he proved in “The Producers,” is a fine comic actor who knows how far to push it without going over the top. Handley has a tangible chemistry with Munn who is charming as Irene. Their duet “It Only Takes a Moment” is surprisingly sweet and affecting. Patrick and Malone are essentially sidekicks in this subplot and ably provide support and comic relief.
The choreography by director Andrew Glant-Linden is truly spectacular. A dance of waiters at a club, including fencing with skewers, is a show highlight. All the choreography has underlining graceful comedy to it. The visual punchline to the song and dance routine “Elegance” is priceless.
“Hello, Dolly” is light, fluffy entertainment done very well. This cast and this production really makes the material shine, making for a thoroughly enjoyable night of theater.
For more information and tickets, call the box office at 356-5776 or visit www.mwvtheatre.org.