Even though it first hit the boards back in 1964, Hello Dolly remains the epitome of a big, brash, Broadway musical; it’s old-fashioned and empty of calories, but like its leading lady, the show is outgoing, brazen, full of glitz and exactly what you want when looking for dinner and an uncomplicated night at the theatre.
Dolly Levi is a matchmaker who has been hired by grumpy Horace Vandergelder, the famous half millionaire of Yonkers, to find a wife. “Some paint, some sew,” says Dolly when describing her role in life, “I meddle.” Dolly has an ulterior motive by heading toYonkers: she intends to marry Vandergelder for herself.
Ladies who have played Dolly Levi over the years succeed when they make the part their own. Carol Channing certainly did, and even though Barbra Streisand may have been a little too young for the role in the movie version, she still succeeded by playing it in a way that no one else would, or could. In Arizona Broadway Theatre’s new, sparkling production of Hello Dolly, Morgan Springer takes the role back to its roots. The part was originally written for Ethel Merman, even though she turned it down, and Morgan brings that same unabashed and audacious manner back to the role in the way that Merman would have played it. With a smile that lights up the stage and a voice of effortless clarity that is a joy to hear, when Morgan sings there’s no one in the house who can’t hear her.
James Rio Is a different kind of Horace Vandergelder. The character is a grump, bordering on callous. “I’m rich, friendless and mean,” he declares with some pride, “Which in Yonkers is as far as you can go.” Rio delivers Vandergelder with those same, unenviable qualities, but he approaches the part with humor as if occasionally winking at the audience with a slight grin, letting us know that he’s not really as bad as he pretends. It may not be as the character was originally intended to be played, but by injecting the rhythm of his delivery with a little knowing warmth, Rio actually makes Vandergelder considerably more likeable than how we normally see him.
Hello Dolly has always worked best in the first half. The setup for the trip out of Yonkers into New York and the playful nature of the farce is more entertaining than the outcome. The conclusions in the second half are what you would expect with no loose ends – all conflicts are neatly wrapped up in a few short sentences, plus the The Waiters’ Gallop where the servers at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant are instructed to move and dance twice as lightning – an admittedly difficult scene to perform – appeared lax, but the scene is soon redeemed by the presentation of the show-stopping title song as the waiters circle and parade around Dolly in a joyous celebration of how to get an iconic Broadway sing-a-long right.
And to complete the evening while watching the show, let me recommend ordering a glass of either The Matchmaker or The Vandergelder, two drinks designed specially for the theatre. Enjoy and thank me later.