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

 

A Winter’s Respite: Marshfield, MO & Dickey House Bed & Breakfast

023

Taking advantage of a freak warm spell, I answered the call of the road once more.  This time the road would be taking me to Marshfield, MO where I would be visiting the Dickey House Bed and Breakfast.

Getting to Marshfield would prove to be. . .interesting.  Having been burned by Mapquest one time too many, I had recently taken to using Google Maps.  That app plotted a route that would take about 6 hours.  I was delayed from leaving by about 20 minutes, but nothing to worry about.

I enjoyed a pleasant, sunny car ride with surprisingly little traffic for a Friday.  About 3:45, I pulled over to a Hardee’s in Clinton, MO for a very late lunch or an early supper depending on one’s point of view.  With my slight delay and a brief stop for gas and to stretch my legs, I estimated that I should arrive at the inn by about 5:30pm.

However, the reality proved to be quite different.  The next road I was looking for was State Highway CC and I found it shortly after leaving town.  I thought it had come up a little too early, but I took the road as I figured 10 miles out of my way was better than 70.

As you may have guessed, it was the wrong CC.

Five miles in I saw a sign saying that the road would end in water so I know I was on the wrong path.  I turned around and drove back to my original road, probably losing another 20 minutes in the process.  I got back on the right road and found the CC highway I needed about 70 miles later.

I still thought I would be fairly on target until I reached State Highway E.  It was a pitch black road full of twists and turns that required constant adjustments of speed, eating up even more of my time.  I finally rolled into Marshfield and had difficulty locating the street I needed as there weren’t street signs on every corner.

Fortunately, I stopped at a Conoco and found Dickey House was a mere few blocks away and arrived at roughly 6:35.  Now at this point, you may be wondering why I was so focused on the time.

I had reached an agreement with the Springfield Little Theatre to review their production of West Side Story and that started at 7:30 and was about a half hour away from the inn.  Needless to say, I was feeling a bit under the gun.

I grabbed my laptop and luggage and rang the doorbell.  I was greeted by Michaelene Stevens, one of the owners of the inn.  She offered to give me a tour of the inn, but I had to decline due to being rushed.  Originally, I was to have stayed in the Fontaine Room, but Michaelene moved me to the Heritage Room which allowed me a connected bathroom.

I quickly put down my bag and laptop and knew I had to skip shaving and changing into my suit in order to reach the theatre.  On my way downstairs, I met Michaelene’s husband, Larry, and their dog, Miss Taylor.  Michaelene showed me how the door lock worked and I dashed off to my car and headed to Springfield.

The theatre is located in the downtown Springfield area which meant parking was not easily available.  Precious time ticked away as I searched for a spot.

At long last I caught a break when I noticed a sign pointing to parking and I found a free parking garage several blocks away from the theatre.  I parked my car and sprinted and I mean, SPRINTED, to the theatre.  I grabbed my tickets and reached my seat with 7 minutes to spare.

The trials and efforts were worth it as I watched the greatest community theatre musical I have ever seen.  You may read the review here.

After the show, I returned to the inn where I quietly began my explorations (I was the only guest) and took pictures.

Dickey House is a 108 year old Greek Revival mansion built for Sam Dickey around 1908.  Dickey was a lawyer who did a lot of pro-bono work for Confederate soldiers whom he thought were getting a bad deal from the government.  Having a massive interest in politics, Dickey hosted seven MO senators and governors during his lifetime.  This would include the governor who brought the World’s Fair to St Louis.  Dickey was also a friend of William Jennings Bryan of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial.

The home remained the family until the 1970s where it passed through several hands and then lay empty for several years.

In 1987 a couple from California bought the home and turned it into an inn before selling out to the Stevens in 1998.  The Stevens restored the house and grounds to its original glory and then some to become the fine inn it is today.

The Heritage Room was quite comfortable with a canopied queen bed, electric fireplace, and reading porch.  I was so exhausted after the day’s adventures I collapsed into bed and slept.

The next morning I banged out my play review, caught a shave and shower and headed down to breakfast.

I had a long conversation with Larry and Michaelene over orange juice, fruit, cookie, and a puff pastry filled with ham, veggies, and other goodies.  I learned that Larry was a talented artist with a studio on the property.  So if you’re an artist or enjoy paintings, this is the inn for you.  And if you ask really nicely, Larry might show you his sanctum sanctorum (his studio).

022

After a long drive the previous day, I didn’t feel like running all over Springfield which I had visited on a previous excursion.  I decided to simply take it easy.  I took a long walk about noon.  Finished a novel.  Watched a little educational TV.  I had forgotten the simple pleasure of really doing nothing.

About 5:40, I headed out for the evening.  I started by attending services at Holy Trinity Parish which has to be the smallest church I have ever visited.  From there, I drove back to the downtown Springfield area where I had dinner at Riad.  This is a Mediterranean restaurant and I enjoyed a gyro with a small side of fries.  As I dined I was surprised to notice that I saw far more cars than I had seen on Friday, but I was seeing fewer people and I wondered how that worked.

After my dinner I went around the corner to 1984 where, for $7.50, I could play all the vintage arcade games I wanted.  I certainly got my money’s worth as it took me twice as much as the entry fee to defeat P.O.W. Prisoners of War.  I also played Tron, Marble Madness, Shinobi, Burgertime, Q-Bert, Rampage, Sinistar, and Tapper.  I did get a great deal of fun out of it, but had hoped for a more varied selection of games as most of these games are available in the vintage arcade in my hometown.

From there it was back to Dickey House and a good night’s sleep.

The next morning featured another great conversation with Larry and Michaelene about movies and travels while I enjoyed a fruit parfait and an oven baked German apple pancake along with my orange juice.  Afterwards I got a quick peek at Larry’s studio before settling my tab and making the drive back home.

Larry and Michaelene have been some of my favorite innkeepers and they are great conversationalists and cooks.  Come to Dickey House.  You’ll stay in a beautiful home, visit with some lovely people, have some great food, and have the benefit of a major city nearby for activities.

Until the next time, happy travels.

You Say You Want a Musical Revolution

Tony and Maria are in love, but their love faces numerous obstacles.  Her brother and his best friend are the leaders of rival gangs that refuse to let them be together.  The world also tries to keep them apart due to its racism as they come from different cultures.  When they try to rise above these problems, they get dragged back down and crash to a hideous reality.  This is West Side Story based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  It is currently playing at Springfield Little Theatre.

It isn’t often that I find myself tongue-tied when I start to write a review, but I am still in a state of glorious shock at what I just saw.  Prior to tonight, I had never seen West Side Story in any capacity though I had read that the original mounting of the show revolutionized what could be done with choreography.  While I have no real comment to make on that, I can say that SLT’s take on this show completely revolutionized what I considered possible with musical theatre.  This was, by far, the single best musical I have seen mounted on any community theatre stage.

Lorianne Dunn does double duty as both director and choreographer and excels in both aspects.  As director, she has put together an absolute masterpiece of a production.  Her direction is certain as she expertly maneuvers her actors through the emotional beats of the stories and songs and leads them to sterling performances.  Her staging is impeccable.  It makes full use of the performance space and none of her actors upstaged themselves or others.

Her choreography is genius.  Never have I seen such lavish dance numbers especially standouts such as “America”, the prologue, and “The Rumble”.  Her work is all the more impressive given the youth of her cast who absolutely nail their performances with a polish and poise that experienced veterans would envy.

This cast is just amazing.  Their energy (and fitness levels) was off the charts.  They were clearly having fun and that added further fuel to nearly flawless performances.  The chorus remained in each and every moment adding vital life and reality to this staged world.  Exceptional supporting performances were supplied by Richard Bogue as the racist and thuggish Lt. Schrank; Lysander Abadia as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks; Robert Hazlette as the always angry Action and he also gets the lead on the night’s funniest number, “Gee, Officer Krupke”; and Miriam Stein as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s best friend.  Ms Stein especially shines with a velvet lower soprano in “America” and “A Boy Like That”.

Asa Charles Leininger stuns as Riff, the leader of the Jets.  Leininger makes Riff far more than a brainless brute with his multilayered take on the character.  His Riff started the Jets to have a sense of belonging.  He’s proud of his gang because of the support they provide.  He’s tough.  He’s loyal, remaining friends with Tony despite his walking away from the gang.  His Riff even has a code of honor as he’s willing to settle his issues with the Sharks with one fistfight.  He even has some common sense as he refuses to react to those that call him and his gang hoodlums and prefers to stay cool.  Leininger’s New York accent is spot on and he retains it as his lower tenor entertains us with “Jet Song” and “Cool”.

Tanner Johnson is scary smooth as Tony.  Johnson takes the audience by the hand and gracefully leads it through Tony’s emotional journey.  He’s got the perfect personality for the likable Tony who is trying to escape his former world of violence by holding down a job and finding love.  You will be swept along with him as he experiences the highs of love, the horror at his violent actions when he gets dragged back into the gang world, and his heartbreak when he thinks he has lost Maria.

Johnson also has a gorgeous tenor voice.  More importantly, he knows how to act through the songs, striking each emotional beat with unerring accuracy.  Some of his best moments were his joyous “Maria” and his beautiful take on “Somewhere”.

Genevieve Fulks is a powerhouse of talent and will steal your hearts as Maria.  She has such innocence and sweetness in the role and you can believe she has the power to evolve Tony into a better person.  But she just as easily handles anger and pain when her world begins to fall apart due to the lifestyle of violence lived by her loved ones.  And, my word, what a heavenly voice she has.  Ms Fulks’ operatic soprano gave a performance for the angels with showstopping turns in “I Feel Pretty”, “I Have Love”, and “Tonight”.

Susan Gravatt and her orchestra perfectly play the score of this musical.  John R. “Chuck” Rogers has designed a magnificent set of fences, crumbling tenements, and fire escapes.  Jamie Bowers’ lights and sounds enhance the story.  Kris Haik and Ginny Herfkens are winners with their precise costuming with the t-shirts, jackets, and jeans of the gangs and the elegant dresses for the ladies.

As I said earlier, this is the best community theatre musical I have ever seen staged in nearly a quarter century of theatre involvement. I have seen professional productions that couldn’t hold a stick to this show.  It’s just a blitzkrieg of perfection from the fantastic story to grade A direction to stunning choreography to flawless acting and entrancing singing.  If you love theatre and live in or near the Springfield, MO area, buy a ticket to see this show.  You will be blown away.

West Side Story plays at Springfield Little Theatre through Feb 4.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $16-$36.  For tickets visit http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.  Parental discretion is advised for coarse language and gestures and some scenes of violence.  Springfield Little Theatre is located at 311 E Walnut St in Springfield, MO.

Springfield Little Theatre Kicks Off 2018 with “West Side Story”

Meme - SLT's West Side Story_preview

Springfield, MO–Springfield Little Theatre (SLT) is pleased to present West Side Story at the historic Landers Theatre beginning Friday, January 19 through Sunday, February 4, 2018.  Performances start at 7:30pm on Thusdays-Saturdays and at 2pm on Sundays.

Young lovers are caught between prejudice and warring street gangs in this seminal retelling of Romeo and Juliet written by Arthur Laurent with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

The powerful, poignant, and timely musical explores the rivalry between the “American” Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, two teenage street gangs in New York City.  Tony, best friend to the leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, sister to the leader of the Sharks.  Their struggle to survive in a world of hate and violence weaves an innovative, heart-wrenching, and relevant tale.

From the first notes to the final breath, West Side Story is one of the most memorable musicals and greatest love stories of all time.  The score is widely regarded as one of the best ever written.  The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theatre.

SLT’s West Side Story features a cast of 57 and is directed and choreographed by Lorianne Dunn with music direction by Susan Gravatt.  Performing the iconic roles of star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria, are Tanner Johnson and Genevieve Fulks.  Johnson, a student at Drury University studying Arts Administration and Vocal Performance, is making his Springfield Little Theatre debut.  Fulks was last seen on the Landers stage as Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street the Musical.  Since that time, she has performed as Young Maxine in Maxine’s Christmas Carol (Andy Williams Moon River Theatre), Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro (Opera in the Ozarks and Springfield Regional Opera), Zerbina in The Maid Mistress (Classical Arts Inc), and Madame Herz in The Impresario (Ozark Family Opera).  Genevieve is a professional singer and actor and also teaches voice at MSU, Drury, and SLT.

West Side Story is rated PG-13.  Tickets range in price form $16-$36.  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.

Parents’ Night Out is offered on Saturday, January 20 for only $10 per child.  Drop your kids off at 5:30pm and treat yourself to dinner before watching the performance.  Or drop your kids off at 7:15pm just before you take your seat.  Children will enjoy a full evening of theatre activities and can be picked up in the lobby following the show.  Register when you purchase your tickets or add it on later!

Enjoy a Backstage Pass Experience before any of the performances for only $10.  Observe company warm-ups prior to the show, take a guided tour backstage, and receive a signed poster and photo with the cast.  Register when you purchase your tickets or add it on later!

Final Fridays Improv Night takes place on Friday, February 3 following the performance.  Admission is “pay what you can”.  SLT’s Teen Players present this hilarious, family-friendly program to raise funds for SLT’s education programs.

The Landers Theatre, SLT’s beautiful home, is located in downtown Springfield at 311 East Walnut Street.

Support for West Side Story is provided by Phenix Marble, Lezah & Ron Stenger Family, Mirowski Inspections, KOLR10, 104.1KSGF, and the Missouri Arts Council, a nonprofit state agency.