The Pioneer Theater Company Ends Its Season With Good Old-Fashioned Entertainment: Jerry Herman’s Classic Musical Hello Dolly!
The 1964 musical, which gave Carol Channing her signature role in its original Broadway production, has a long theatrical lineage. Based on Thornton Wilder the matchmaker, the main character is Dolly Gallagher Levi, a sassy widow with a prodigious skill set and an equally prodigious supply of moxie. Dolly brings together several couples during the show, but the most important match she puts on is for herself.
Paige Davis, best known as co-host of the home improvement series Commercial spaces and as a former pitchwoman for a local furniture chain, plays the title role. No one who plays Dolly can escape comparisons to Barbra Streisand, and Davis’ helpful voice is out of that league. Instead, she takes over the show with compelling comedic timing and megawatt charm. Davis’ Dolly beams with joy, and the audience, like the characters in her orbit, can’t help but take her side.
Kris Coleman portrays “well-known bachelor half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder, whom Dolly decided to marry for his money. Like Davis, Coleman is a little younger than audiences might expect for his character, which brings a playful edge to their banter. His singing is suave and his fast line delivery makes it clear that Horace is the rare man who can handle Dolly.
Kelly McCormick brings depth to milliner Irene Molloy, poignantly singing about her longing for romance in “Ribbons Down My Back.” Alexander Mendoza plays his love, store clerk Cornelius Hackl, with seductive innocence and a fiery tenor voice, while Michael J. Rios, who plays Cornelius sidekick Barnaby Tucker, dances with such verve that his time on scene seems disappointing. Dori Waymer gets a lot of laughs with her nasal petulance as saleswoman Minnie Fay, but then reveals top tips in the delightfully choreographed quartet “Elegance” – a highlight of the evening.
Myles Tracy Woolstenhume and Hannah Balagot play Ambrose Kemper and Ermengarde Vandergelder, the other couple encouraged by Dolly. The two actors sing and dance with panache. Balagot does an admirable job of controlling Ermengarde’s crying, reclaiming a character that can often come across as grating.
Cart is a throwback in many ways, both good (the exuberant song-and-dance numbers that propel the action) and not-so-good (the main man’s down-to-earth sexism). PTC Artistic Director Karen Azenberg, who helms this production, lays out the plot straightforwardly and leans into the old-school energy of the musical numbers.
The large cast sings at the top of their lungs and performs Lenny Daniel’s lively choreography with vigor and precision. (The waiters’ gallop, full of wit and athleticism, is worth the price of admission.) Music director Phil Reno led a 14-piece orchestra adding an extra touch to Broadway.
There is, however, a moment that seems rooted in the present, when Davis slows down her labor just enough to let Dolly’s observation about the difference between a little money and no money, and the difference between a little money and a huge amount of money, sink in. The choices of actor and director make the moment relevant but not preachy.
James Noone’s scenography is simple but effective. The black-and-white backdrops, suggesting pencil sketches, depict the streets of Yonkers and New York, and the interior sets are equally economical.
This emphasizes the fabulous costume designs of Eduardo Sicangco, featuring classic Victorian silhouettes generously embellished with bows, bustles and ruffles. Sicangco has a delicious array of colors – pistachio and chocolate for Dolly, butterscotch and cranberry for Irene, lemon and raspberry for Minnie – but the real show-stopper is Dolly’s dress in the Harmonia Gardens stage, resplendent in metallic hues and topped with a glorious plumed helmet.
The penultimate scene in the courtroom will feature cameos by a range of Utah celebrities as the judge. Martell L. Teasley, acting senior vice president of academic affairs and provost at the University of Utah, did the honors on opening night.
Ahead of Friday’s curtain, Azenberg announced the company’s 2022-23 season, which will feature four musicals: Scaled, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s Musical Adaptation from Screen to Stage A Christmas Story, the Stephen Sondheim review Put together, and the recent Broadway hit Prom.
There will also be a staging of Molière’s farce Scapin, updated in the 1960s and the world premiere of Kareem Fahmy A separate company, a drama that takes place in a library on the Canada-US border. The seventh show, which has yet to be announced, will take place in a new, smaller show space in the nearby University of Utah’s Einar Nielson Fieldhouse.
Hello Dolly! through May 28 at the Roy W. and Elizabeth E. Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theater; pioneertheatre.org