"I feel the room swayin’ for the band’s playin’ one of my old favourite
songs from way back when”
There’s something about Dolly. When I first saw Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! at
the Open Air Theatre back in 2009, I’d’ve happily sat through the show again
straightaway despite being incredibly cold and damp. And though struggling to
shake off the effects of an annoying bug, the same feeling caught me as we got
to the end of Paul Kerryson’s production of the show for Leicester’s Curve Theatre, it is just one of those shows. This was a matinée preview full of incident
though. A woman taken ill just before the end of the show was dealt with
efficiently by the theatre staff, though its timing was most unfortunate as it
all took place right under my nose in the final moments of the show. And a
wayward underskirt threatened to topple Janie Dee mid-performance but ever the
consummate professional, she whipped it off mid-song and carried on regardless.
It all added to the undoubted charm of a gorgeously mounted show that is full
of great heart.
Dee's Dolly Levi is a marvellous confection, making this professional matchmaker
less of an overtly comic whirlwind than one might expect. Her performance is
full of subtlety: a deep sincerity in her beliefs, a minor note of melancholy
that creeps in every time she mentions her late lamented Ephraim, but also a
wonderful wit which makes the glint in her eye all the more playful whether
she's teasing audience members or pulling the strings of her clients. And
though not necessarily the strongest singer, the arrangements have been
cleverly reworked to suit her rich contralto and there's something touching in
having these songs delivered with a modicum of vulnerability rather than being
belted out in the manner one assumes Caroline O’Connor would have done, her
being originally cast in the title role but later withdrawing.
Laura Pitt-Pulford continues to prove that it won't be long before it is her
turn to start headlining shows such as these with a gorgeously warm performance
as hat-shop owner Irene Molloy who delights in being swept up into the eager
arms of Cornelius Hackl, and quite frankly who wouldn't when he is played with
such charisma as by Michael Xavier, adorably daffy and yet infinitely moving in
his declaration that this is his happiest day, minute, second, moment. Ngo
Ngofa and Jason Denton have great chemistry too as the similarly lovestruck
Minnie and Barnaby and as the curmudgeonly Horace Vandergelder, Dale Rapley
weathers the onslaught of Dolly's attentions with wearied wit and appeal.
There's something really nice too about the way in which Kerryson appreciates
the talents of his dancers and showcases them through David Needham's
choreography - the waiter number is a well-established tour-de-force for the
male dancers and does not disappoint at all, but the extended dance break in
Dancing is neatly choreographed in a number of small groups, keeping the stage
uncluttered and really allowing the individual skills of the performers to
shine. Likewise, I liked that Ben Atkinson's 8-strong band are in full sight on
the stage and there's a lovely touch of a local brass band, to the obvious
delight of several audience members, participating in the joyous parade that
closes Act 1, it all feels so apt to the convivial, entirely cynic-free
atmosphere that is curated inside the Curve.
There will be other, more objective reviews that come once the show has opened
and I can see that it won’t necessarily be to everyone tastes. But this is a
big warm-hearted production of a big Broadway show and I just really enjoyed myself.
The show was like a warm blanket of loveliness to snuggle against from the cold
outside and my own ailing health and sometimes, that is more than enough.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 12th January
Labels: Cameron Ball, Dale Rapley, Gary Wood, Janie Dee, Jason Denton, Joseph Connor, Keisha Atwell, Kerry Washington, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Matt Gillett, Michael Xavier, Ngo Ngofa, Simon Donovan