Sunday 9 December 2012

Hello, Dolly! - Review

Curve Theatre, Leicester

Book by Michael Stewart
Music & lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Paul Kerryson

Janie Dee is Dolly Levi
In a grand show, whose qualities are built entirely upon a stunning company performance, the Curve’s production of Hello, Dolly! is a faultless piece of musical theatre.
Jerry Herman’s Broadway hit, later starring Barbra Streisand in the 1969 movie, tells of the preposterous antics of penniless widowed matchmaker Dolly Levi and her schemes to ultimately net the wealthy Yonkers grain merchant, Horace Vandergelder for herself. Levi can produce business cards that proclaim her an expert in just about everything and Michael Stewart’s book, itself based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, has Dolly weave what can only be described as a Ponzi scheme of romantic trickery and duplicity. Integral to the story’s delightfully ridiculous twists and turns are Levi’s client, the also widowed milliner Irene Molloy and Vandergelder’s much put upon impoverished clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, excited to be making a trip to New York City with the sole aim of kissing a girl.
Janie Dee’s Dolly is a woman “who likes to know everything that’s going on” and her performance brims with as much talent as her character has chutzpah. Popping up from the middle of the stalls, her opening number I Put My Hand In sets the tone for both performance and show. Her eyes twinkle throughout and her lead of the company in the spectacular act one closer, Before The Parade Passes By, has such vitality that the song almost deserves several further verses and it is a disappointment when that number draws to a close. Act two sees her famous arrival at the Hermonia Gardens restaurant to the show’s title number and Dee, together with the ensemble’s waiters does not disappoint. She takes a Broadway classic that everybody knows and makes it her own.
Dale Rapley’s Vandergelder is a delightfully maturing curmudgeon, his song It Takes A Woman, a glorious celebration of male chauvinism. Rapley’s presence adds a delicious credibility to his bluster as through the show and much as he resists, Levi slowly reels him in.
West End star Michael Xavier is the hapless Hackl. Michael Crawford set the bar for this role in the movie and Xavier, with his movement and vocals vaults it effortlessly. Jason Denton’s Tucker provides the perfect foil to Hackl’s mania.
As Irene Molloy, Laura Pitt-Pulford shines. Already an accomplished off-West End leading actress, her Molloy has an infectious charm and her talent adds further glitter to the show’s Broadway sparkle. Ribbons Down My Back, sung as she yearns for a suitor, is arguably one of the most heartfelt yet emotionally lightly-touched numbers ever written for the stage and Pitt-Pulford catches its fragile complexity perfectly.
Paul Kerryson directs with perception and flourish using the massive Curve proscenium to its full. The shows images are grand and he enhances the red white and blue tickertape climax to act one with the inspired addition of local marching bands to the 14th Street parade, The Scout and Guide Bands of Leicestershire on stage for this review.
David Needham’s choreography is breathtaking. The act two Waiter’s Gallop, clearly drilled into the cast with pinpoint precision, sees dancers cartwheel through mid-air.  On stage throughout, Ben Atkinson’s eight piece band provides a big-band sound that, from the opening refrain, transports the production from England’s East Midlands to America’s East Coast.  The set design by Sara Perks ingeniously employs projections and simple mechanisms (including an inspired revolving staircase) to portray the various New York city and railroad locations, whilst her costume work is meticulous.
With regional revivals currently achieving commercial success in the West End, Curve should plan to send this show south as soon as opportunities permit. It’s a confirmed Christmas cracker!

My profile of Janie Dee can be found here

Runs until 19 January 2012

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