Review: Hello, Dolly!

Saturday night found me north of Indianapolis downtown at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre, a scion among Indianapolis performing arts venues, ready to enjoy their newest production, Hello, Dolly! Mike and I anxiously sat outside of Beef and Boards listening to the radio and our alma mater, Butler University, make basketball history for Indianapolis sports as the first team to play the Final Four in their hometown in more than thirty five years. As we entered the theatre, high from our school’s victory, the dining crowd happened to be cheering this Indianapolis university at that very moment. Thus the evening began on a very high note. With our belly’s full of Chef Odell Ward’s buffet and more coffee than either of us needed, Mike and I sat back to be entertained by the cast of Beef and Boards’ production of Hello, Dolly!

Hello, Dolly! tells the story of Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, a self employed entrepreneur with a skill to fit every occasion. From dance lessons to mandolin instruction, Dolly constantly has her hand in a number of pies. Her specialty, however, is matchmaking. Hired by the “half a millionaire” Horace Vandergelder to find him a new wife, Dolly sets her sights on becoming the next Mrs. Vandergelder. She schemes and tricks her way into Horace’s heart. Meanwhile, Horace’s assistant clerk, Cornelius Hackl, longs for love and a life of his own. When he sets off to New York City, he finds much more than he bargained for in Irene Malloy (one of Horace’s suitors). With his trusty sidekick, Barnaby Tucker, in tow, Cornelius finally finds adventure in his life.

Set in the early 1900s, Hello, Dolly! is a show that demands wonderful costumes. That is precisely what designer Brian Horton brought to the stage. His period pieces on both men and women established a time and place far from our own, with big bustles and even bigger hats. In a wonderful color palate, he served the action of the play well, consistently making leading ladies and gentleman stand out from the crowd in big musical numbers.

Musical theatre is largely about singing and dancing, leaving plot elements to sort themselves out at times. Hello, Dolly! is a play that lacks serious exposition to establish character relationship and motivations. Because these elements are only mildly incorporated into the script, it becomes important for the director and actors to establish the “who, what and why” of the story through their creative additions to the show. Eddie Curry, who last directed The Foreigner on Beef and Boards’ stage, did this with some, but not all, of his actors. Though his own sense of humor was less present on stage in Hello, Dolly! than it was during the comedic romp The Foreigner, his directorial view point on broad stroke comedy was fun to watch.

Iris Lieberman stepped into the role of Dolly Levi with verve. Her beautiful voice brought power to her solos, reminiscent but not imitative of Barbra Streisand. Lieberman has a ball on stage as the manipulative but good-natured Dolly, bringing the audience along on a journey with her. As the central figure, she is not only given, but creates exposition for herself in songs like “I Put My Hand In,” giving her a clear and concise character arch.

As Horce Vandergelder, Mark Goetzinger (seen last in the IRT’s A Christmas Carol) is also given a fair amount of exposition. In his solo number “It Takes A Woman,” he more than establishes his reason for remarrying. With fun choreography and backing from the men of the company, Goetzinger conveys another important fact in his number: this world is more than a little misogynistic. However, with a wonderfully “old timey” look and vocal quality, Goetzinger is cast perfectly, pulling this off without being offensive.

My hands down favorite part of Beef and Boards production of Hello, Dolly! were the dynamic duo of Vandergelder’s store clerks: Cornelius Hackl (David Schmittou also of The Foreigner) and Barnaby Tucker (Alex Yacovelli). Here is an instance of being given only a little exposition and taking it further. Without hearing them first say it, both Schmittou and Yacovelli establish themselves as practically slaves to Vandergelder’s feed store through their physicality and invented moments. When the script finally gets around to sharing their background, the audience hears it clearly and is ready to move forward in the plot with them. On top of this, the pair sang my favorite song of the show “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” and they sang it well!

As the second female lead, Irene Malloy (Tori Hicks), lacked character development that she very easily could have created for herself. Yes, we understand she is a widow running a hat shop who plans to remarry to Horace Vandergelder. But, no, we don’t understand how she could be swept off her feet by the penniless store clerk, Cornelius Hackl. Her expositional musical number “Ribbons Down My Back” was far from provocative, a term her character uses to describe the idea of wearing such a hat. This flat line ballad could have been laced with a longing for true love in the face of her economically driven match to Horace. Instead it was simply a pretty voice hitting the notes, making her eventual love affair with Cornelius a bit odd. In striking contrast, Irene’s assistant Minnie Fay (Jana Lugar) established her character in the instant she opened her mouth. With a high pitched squeak, the audience knows everything we need to in order to follow this character through the show.

One plot line in Beef and Boards’ production of Hello, Dolly! lacked any followable exposition: the story of Ambrose Kemper (Kenny Shepard) and Ermengarde (Cara Noel Antosca). I found the story shared by this pair difficult to understand and follow from the onset, due largely to a lack of relational establishment between Shepard and Goetzinger and Shepard and Antosca. Here are just a few questions I was asking myself throughout: “Why does Horace dislike Kemper? Just because he is an artist? Why doesn’t Kemper act more stereotypical “artsy” to establish this? Am I suppose to surmise his artistic side simply because at one point in one scene he carried a paint palette? Why doesn’t paint from the paint palette get on his jacket when he carries it against his breast? Why does Kemper love Ermengarde, all she seems to do is cry?” Judging by Shepard’s involvement in both of these relationships, the finger seems to point towards him as the responsible party. While he is, no doubt, a talented dancer, his acting leaves more than a little to be desired.

Despite a few hitches in exposition, Hello, Dolly! at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre is an enjoyable experience over all. Iris Liberman truly carries this show with a satisfying voice and spunky character, her Dolly is just right! Catch Hello, Dolly! at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre now through May 2. Make your outing in Indy complete with cocktails from any of these great Indianapolis bars. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Events and Information on Fun City for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. We cover Indianapolis attractions, Indianapolis culture, Indianapolis sports and more! Make the Circle City your playground!

Hello, Dolly!
Now through May 2, 2010

Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre

9301 North Michigan Road
Indianapolis, IN 46268