That Meddlesome, Magical Matchmaker

Matchmaker (and jane of all trades) Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi schemes to marry half a millionaire Horace Vandergelder and make a few more happy couples while she’s at it.  This is Hello, Dolly! with book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and it is currently playing at Springfield Little Theatre.

If I ever relocate, I’m going to make certain Springfield is one of the cities I consider due to the sheer quality of entertainment available here.  I heard Broadway grinding its teeth as SLT’s production of Hello, Dolly! blows away anything currently playing on The Great White Way.  If you want a great night of theatre, catch a showing of this production.  Costumes?  Gorgeous!  Set?  Fabulous!  Orchestra?  Pluperfect!!  Singing?  Phenomenal!!!  Acting?  Superlative!!

Chyrel Love Miller takes on the grueling double role of director and choreographer for this production and comes up aces on both counts.  Miller’s direction is of shining quality.  She knows every beat of the show, both musically and theatrically and nuances the tar out of it while keeping a brisk pace.  Her staging is top of the line and makes maximum use of the space which was doubly impressive in this case as the actors had to navigate around the orchestra pit for a great many of the musical’s showstopping numbers.  Her actors are all sublime and have crafted well-developed characters from the leading performers to the ensemble roles.

The only word I can think of to describe her choreography is epic.  This show has huge, flashy numbers and a lot of them.  But each is an original delight and the performers nail the dancing with nary a mistake.  Some especially impressive numbers include “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, “Dancing”, “Hello, Dolly”, and “Polka”.

I give a standing ovation to the ensemble of the show.  I can never stress enough how a committed ensemble adds so much life and vitality to a production and they helped this show blossom.  All were having a good time and that sense of fun really communicates itself well to an audience.  They harmonized perfectly on the numbers and their dancing was entrancing.

Some especially strong supporting performances were provided by Heath Hillhouse who makes a stellar debut at SLT with his potentially tyrannical take on Rudolph Reisenweber, the head waiter at Harmonia Gardens; Hayden Gish as Minnie Fay, the milliner’s assistant whose nosiness clashes with her attempts to be proper; and Wyatt Munsey whose energy as Barnaby Tucker could light up a city.

Kim Crosby IS Dolly Levi!  I don’t mean she plays the role.  She IS the role.  Crosby had the audience in the palm of her hand from her first word and didn’t let go for one nanosecond.  Crosby’s delivery is satin smooth which is essential to the silver and glib tongued matchmaker who has a positive genius for meddling, but always uses it as a force for good with her heart of gold.  Crosby uses stage space like few performers I’ve seen and it always gives her Dolly an animated, realistic feel.  She also has a lovely alto which she modulates according to number from her confidence in her abilities to do just about anything in “I Put My Hand In” to her determination to start living life again in “Before the Parade Passes By” to her joy at returning to Harmonia Gardens in “Hello, Dolly”.

Eric Eichenberger is a likable grump as Horace Vandergelder.  He claims that 99% of society is foolish, but does have a soft spot once you peel away enough layers.  Eichenberger does superb work walking the fine line of keeping Vandergelder a curmudgeon while also showing that he’s still decent even if he is a bit rough around the edges.  Eichenberger also has a fine upper baritone which he utilizes to explain why he needs a wife in “It Takes a Woman”.

Gene Kelly once described the role of Cornelius Hackl as an attractive idiot and I believe that description suits Clayton Avery’s interpretation of the role.  Avery’s Hackl is a bit repressed and has lived a sheltered life.  At 33, he’s never even talked to a girl.  Avery does superior work communicating Hackl’s inexperience around women and has a remarkably sincere delivery.  He also well displays Hackl’s lack of mental swiftness.  It’s not that Cornelius is dumb.  He just improvises poorly when the pressure is on.

Avery has a dandy, crystal clear tenor which was quite entertaining with “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and genuinely moving in “It Only Takes a Moment”.

Kassandra Wright is both sweet and tart as Irene Molloy.  At one moment, she’s delighting in a potential bit of devilry as she plans to flirt with Cornelius before dropping him cold and then wistfully remembering the real love she shared with her late husband, Peter, in “Ribbons Down My Back”.  This song is sung with a heavenly soprano that nearly brought me to tears.

John R. “Chuck” Rogers has designed a winning set with backdrops that bring one to the cobblestoned streets of turn of the century New York and drills the sheer elegance of Harmonia Gardens with a massive staircase and a pair of curtained, private dining rooms.  Ginny Herfkens and Sandy Balsters designed some brightly colored, period appropriate costumes sometimes bordering on the pastel.  The elegant gowns of the ladies and snappy suits of the men evoke memories of a long ago era.   Parker Payne and his orchestra provide a night of musical ambrosia and I’d like to note Lysander Abadia’s particularly meticulous work in his choreography of “Waiters’ Gallop”.

As I said earlier, if you’re looking for a musical that ticks all the boxes for a great night of entertainment, then this is the one for you.  And as much as we hope, “Dolly’ll never go away”, you’d best grab a ticket before she does.

Hello, Dolly! plays at Springfield Little Theatre in the historic Landers Theatre through Feb 23.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $16-$32.   For tickets visit http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.  Springfield Little Theatre is located at 311 E Walnut St in Springfield, MO.

Springfield Little Theatre Invites You to ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ With ‘Hello, Dolly!’

Springfield, MO–Springfield Little Theatre is proud to present Hello, Dolly! at the historic Landers Theatre from Friday, Feb 7 to Sunday, Feb 23, 2020.  Performances are at 7:30pm Thurs-Sat and 2pm on Sundays and on Sat, Feb 22.

Hello, Dolly!, the 14 Tony Award-winning blockbuster Broadway hit, bursts with humor, romance, high-energy dancing, and some of the greatest songs in musical theater history. The romantic and comic exploits of Dolly Gallagher-Levi, played by Broadway actress Kim Crosby, turn-of-the-century matchmaker and “woman who arranges things,” are certain to thrill and entertain audiences again and again.  

Recently revived on Broadway in 2017 with Bette Midler in the title role, Hello, Dolly! originally opened on Broadway in 1964 and was, at the time, the longest running Broadway show with 2,844 performances. 

The show’s memorable songs include “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Ribbons Down My Back,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “Elegance,” and “It Only Takes a Moment.” 

Hello, Dolly! is rated PG.  Ticket prices range from $16-$32.  Group pricing is available for parties of 10 or more.  Please visit www.springfieldlittletheatre.org to purchase your tickets and select seats 24/7.  You may also call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.

Director & Choreographer:  Chyrel Love Miller

Cast

Kim Crosby as Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi

Hope Horton as Ernestina

Conner Paulson as Ambrose Kemper

Eric Eichenberger as Horace Vandergelder

Rachel Christopherson as Ermengarde

Clayton Avery as Cornelius Hackl

Wyatt Munsley as Barnaby Tucker

Hayden Gish as Minnie Fay

Kassandra Wright as Irene Molloy

Also featuring:  Miriam Stein, Ryan Mattix, Heath Hillhouse, Michael Grover, Seth Walley, Sean Scarborough, Brian Kress, Decker Ames, Derrick DeVonne King, Andy Phinney, Joshua David Smith, Robert Reed, Daniel Bush, Sisilia Shaffer, Millie Wade, Amber Eggimann, Heather Crosby, Emma Elliott, Jennifer Yerganian, Lori Harmon, Sandy Johnson, Seth Dylan Hunt, Kristy Stacy, Natalie Regenold, Sarah Foster and Wesley Brown

 

Have Yourself a Plaidful Little Christmas

A musical group returns to life. . .again. . . to spread some holiday cheer.  This is Plaid Tidings by Stuart Ross and is currently playing at the PART Theatre.

This show is less musical and more musical revue as the group, Forever Plaid, spend the evening entertaining the audience (sometimes even involving the audience) with a series of Christmas songs, standards, and pop tunes.  The revue is tied together by the story that Forever Plaid was a musical group that died en route to their big break.  They got to come back once to do the show they never got to do and now have mysteriously returned again for a new mission:  spreading the joy of Christmas.

Since this show doesn’t have the traditional narrative track, there isn’t much acting in the sense of storytelling though those playing Forever Plaid are truly characters with delightful idiosyncrasies and quirks.  Smooth, this group is not.  Forever Plaid definitely has a raw talent musically, but they lack polish which leads to much of the show’s humor.  But this show also has some deeply sensitive, bittersweet, and sad moments that will give your heartstrings a little tug.

Gordon Cantiello provides admirable direction with the piece.  He has staged the production almost as a tiny club or lounge performance and well utilizes the theatre space as Forever Plaid engages with the audience and sings throughout the performance area.  He well defines each member of the group as each person has a distinct and unique personality and history.  Cantiello has also created some of the most amusing choreography I have ever seen with some of the dance moves of Forever Plaid.

The key to this show is casting as those playing Forever Plaid need a vibrant chemistry plus be able to powerfully play off each other along with performing well musically.  Well, this cast certainly has that in spades as I genuinely believed this group had been together for years due to how well they bantered with each other.

In a group of sad sacks, Justin Dehmer’s Smudge was definitely the saddest sack of all.  Projecting the image of a high-strung nerd with his taped-up glasses and complaints about his ulcer.  Dehmer has good vocal range and usually sang the deeper parts of the harmony on the night’s many numbers.  Dehmer also has the acting moment of the night as his Smudge shares the tearjerking story of why Christmas was his favorite time of the year.  The centerpiece of his story is his using the emotion of it to turn one of the most jubilant Christmas songs, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, into a moving heartbreaker.

Jon Hickerson’s Frankie struck me as the de facto leader of the group as he was the one pushing the team to keep focus on their mission.  He has an excellent 2nd tenor voice and a good grip on humor as he had the most amusing monologue of the night with his psychological and emotional observations on Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.  Hickerson also led the night’s most entertaining number, “Matilda”.

Roger Bunnell’s Jinx just might have the potential to be the breakout member of Forever Plaid.  Jinx is the shyest member of the group with a propensity for nose bleeds, but once he gets into the music, his is a rare talent.  Bunnell’s singing voice evokes images of Gene Pitney in natural setting and range, Michael Crawford in timbre, and Lou Christie for sheer falsetto power.  Some of his standout moments are his solo scene when he busts out “Besame Mucho” and “Kiss of Fire” and shows some Gene Kellyish dancing skill when he hoofs it up with “Singin’ in the Snow”.

Josh Dewberry’s Sparky is a human joke machine.  Dewberry has a superior sense of comedic timing and knows how to be physical with his comedy, especially with his rendition of “Fever”.  His lovely tenor was also featured well in “We Wish You a Perry Christmas” which was a segue from the story Sparky shared about the night Forever Plaid met Perry Como.  He does need to be careful with his diction on that lengthy story as it got a bit mushy at some points.

Peggy Holloway’s musical direction is top of line and she does excellent song interpretation on the piano and is ably supported by Bud Phillips on bass.  Mary Mullen Ferzely and Rob Lohman did a wonderful job decorating the theatre and making it feel like the perfect setting for a festive holiday show.  Jackson Hatcher’s sound effects were spot on, especially his ominous claps of thunder.  Josh Dewberry pulled double duty with a nifty bit of lighting design.  Lee Meyer and Gentleman’s Choice teamed up to properly costume Forever Plaid with tastefully gaudy plaid tuxedos and Comoish Christmas sweaters.

If you are a fan of standards and pop tunes, you are going to enjoy this show.  And if you’re a fan of Christmas songs (and I know I am) you are REALLY going to enjoy this show.  Spend a bit of the Yuletide season with Forever Plaid.

Plaid Tidings runs at the PART Theatre through Dec 15.  Showtimes are 7pm Thurs-Sat and 2pm Sat-Sun.  Tickets cost $35 ($30 for seniors and $25 for students).  For ticket information, contact 402-706-0778.  PART Theatre is located inside Crossroads Mall at 7400 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

This ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Needs More Spirit

A disfigured genius falls in love with a chorus girl.  Taking her under his wing, he trains her voice so she can become the leading lady of the Opera Populaire.  When she falls in love with a childhood friend, the genius plots to keep her for himself at any cost.  This is the plot of The Phantom of the Opera, currently playing at the Orpheum Theatre.  It is written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Charles Hart, and based off of a novel by Gaston LeRoux.

Phantom has long been my favorite musical.  Its moving story and haunting music never fail to sweep me into another world.  Even after 8 viewings of this show, it has not lost a bit of its magic.  Cameron Mackintosh’s reimagined production helps breathe a bit of new wonder into the 30 year old show with new sets and a few surprises.

With that being said, it also breaks my heart to admit that this was also the weakest rendition of the show I have seen to date.

Not that the show is bad.  The music, singing, and choreography were as strong as ever.  But there was a lack of connection between many of the primary performers and their words making it feel like they were simply going through the motions.  The end result being that a show where every prior production ranked a superior from me gets a mere OK on this go-around.

Part of this problem is not the fault of the actors.  While the Orpheum is a beautiful, archaic theatre well suited to a play like Phantom, its acoustics are a black hole for sound.  Many of the performers did what they could to overcome this problem, but their efforts could only go so far.  Others needed to do a better job of projecting.

Laurence Connor’s direction is passable.  The scene changes are excellently executed and some of the staging is truly magical.  However, he failed to get the best performances out of his cast and his staging of the play’s climactic final scene utterly robbed it of its tragic beauty.

The Really Useful Theatre Group took a big risk in casting Chris Mann in the title role.  Best known for being a finalist on The Voice, Mann, if the program is correct, has no prior acting credits.  Mann truly makes an effort and, for an inexperienced actor, has a truly potent sense of body language.  But his inexperience shows in his inability to capture many of the subtle nuances of the character, though he does show a brilliant flash or two throughout the night.

His singing is absolutely fantastic and he clearly knows how to interpret a song.  His beautiful tenor nailed the emotional beats of The Music of the Night and he was utterly mesmerizing as he entranced Christine during his solo in Wandering Child.

Katie Travis was one of the few performers equally as strong on the acting side as on the singing side.  She understood that a musical is more than just the singing.  It’s about being able to act through the songs, as well.  Ms Travis has a very young look which lent itself well to the role of Christine Daae.  She is utterly believable as the young girl torn between her mysterious benefactor and her young lover.  Her simple hugging of the Phantom at the play’s climax nearly broke me in two.

Ms Travis also has a glorious soprano that is so pure and clean.  She nearly brought down the house in her first solo, Think of Me, and proceeded to do so in Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.  Ms Travis’ singing and accurate acting choices made for a well rounded performance.

Jordan Craig played Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, Christine’s love interest.  Craig is a very, very good singer.  His powerful, well measured baritone was a pleasure to listen to in his signature solo, All I Ask of You.  But his acting was almost non-existent.  I didn’t get the sense of any true emotional commitment to the role as Craig would appear on stage, sing, and then not have any sort of reactions to the events swirling around him, even in scenes where Raoul was in mortal peril.

David Foley and Edward Staudenmayer brought some welcome comedy relief in the roles of Firmin and Andre, the new owners of the Opera Populaire.  The roles are not huge, but each managed to create well developed characters with Foley’s business minded Firmin and Staudenmayer’s more artsy Andre.  These two men were arguably the strongest performers of the night with their deft comic timing and ability to overcome the difficulties of the Orpheum’s acoustics.  Staudenmayer does need to be careful with his humor as he went slightly over the top on a couple of occasions.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention several outstanding cameo performances in the evening’s production.  Victor Wallace stole his scenes as the uncouth Joseph Buquet who makes the fatal mistake of poking fun at the Phantom.  Morgan Cowling is a charmer as Christine’s loyal and gutsy friend, Meg Giry.  Michael Thomas Holmes was hysterical as the ill-tempered musical director, Monsieur Reyer.

Scott Ambler’s choreography was always a joy to watch especially in Masquerade.  Dale Rieling’s musical direction never failed to impress in a night of flawless instrumentation from his orchestra.  Paul Brown’s sets were pieces of artistic majesty from the stage of the Opera Populaire, to the graveyard where Christine’s father was buried, to the dank lair of the Phantom.  Maria Bjornsen’s costumes were extremely elegant with the flowing gowns for the ladies and the fine evening wear for the men.

There is a reason why The Phantom of the Opera still holds audiences in the palm of its hand even after 30 years.  The music and story are timeless with rich roles in which actors can sink their teeth.  While the night’s entertainment was pleasant enough, I have seen and will see better productions than this current run.  Ultimately, the failure to connect with their roles by many of the actors made this simply an average show.

The Phantom of the Opera plays at the Orpheum Theatre through May 1.  Performances are Tues-Thurs at 7:30pm.  Fri-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm.  There are also matinees at 2pm on Sat and 1:30pm on Sunday.  Tickets range from $150 to $50 and can be obtained at TicketOmaha or by visiting the box office at 13th and Douglas Streets M-F from 10am-5pm and Sat from Noon-5pm.  The Orpheum Theatre is located at 409 S 16th St in Omaha, NE.