Hello, Dolly! at Theater Latté Da in North Minneapolis

T. Mychael Rambo and Regina Marie Williams. Photo by Dan Norman

Theater Latté Da presents Hello, Dolly! the 1969 film version of which was the most expensive musical ever at the time and was responsible for ending big budget musicals due to it’s financial failure. So from one of the biggest musicals ever they have staged an intimate small call musical. Does Hello, Dolly! work in a scaled down version? Yes, at least as well as any version would. Latté Da has done what they could to make the show relevant with a wonderfully diverse cast and a focus in their design on businesses owned by BIPOC. If you are a Hello. Dolly! fan, you are going to enjoy this production I’ve no doubt. If you are not, this isn’t going to change that. I’m luke warm on the show myself. My first exposure was the touring production that was part of the Hennepin Theatre Trust Broadway series a few years back, which I enjoyed, probably just as much for the spectacle as for the show itself. This production is short of spectacle, but has more heart, and on that emotional level I connected more than I expected to.

Hello, Dolly! the musical with a book by Michael Stewart and Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman was based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder. The central character is Dolly Levi, a widow who makes her income primarily as a matchmaker, but she can also provide pretty much any service you need, and she even has the business cards to prove it. Dolly has decided that rather than proceed with the match she’s made for wealthy Hay and Feed store owner Horace Vandergelder she will marry him herself. She has also been engaged by a young artist, Ambrose Kemper, who wants to marry Vandergelder’s niece Ermengarde, but her uncle forbids it. But forget about them, the show does for most of it, these characters are so inconsequential, that it’s a wonder someone didn’t think to cut them altogether. There are two other couples who’s romantic inclinations are of much greater interest. Vandergelder’s two clerks Cornelius and Barnaby who never get to do anything, decide in the bosses absence to fake an accident that forces them to close the store so they can have one evening off to live a little. All of these characters head into New York City from Yonkers. Vandergelder to propose to Mrs. Irene Molloy, Cornelius and Barnaby to have an adventure and kiss a girl! The other two to learn to dance or something, don’t worry you won’t care. Lastly, Dolly to orchestrate everything to her satisfaction. There is entertainment in Dolly’s manipulation of everything and the frustration of the Miserly Vandergelder with the way things are being manipulated. But the heart of the whole show frankly is Cornelius and Irene Molloy.

China Brickey and Reed Sigmund Photo by Dan Norman

Regina Marie Williams stars as Dolly Levi with T. Mychael Rambo as Horace Vandergelder. Williams brings a fresh soulfulness to the musical numbers which is nice. Performance wise I felt like the comedic nature of the character seemed out of her comfort zone. Having been stunned by her recent dramatic turn as her Prospera at the center of the Tempest last winter, perhaps I’m too accustomed to her powerful intensity, but it seemed to me there was a playful mischievousness missing from the character. Rambo is more at home with his role and like Williams, he shines when he gets a chance at the end to really lean into the soulfulness of the songs. My favorites though, were China Brickey and Reed Sigmund as Cornelius and Molloy. To my mind there are two great songs in the show, “Hello, Dolly!”, and the best “It Only Takes a Moment”. When Brickey and Reed sing “It Only Takes a Moment” my heart opened right up and I got all warm inside. Reed is wide eyed and full all optimism playing Cornelius as a good hearted everyman in over his head. Brickey shows us her character slowly being won over by his innocent charm. She’s more intelligent, more worldly, she is a woman who thought that love ended for her when her late husband passed and she is now just looking for a match that will be comfortable. Watching Brickey we see that resignation slowly melt away as she falls for Cornelius. Also delightful are Anna Hashizume as Minnie, Molloy’s shop girl and friend and Brian Kim McCormick as Barnaby, they make another cute couple and one I’d like to have seen get more of storyline. These four performers are the heart and the fun of the show, they have the most romantic and comical scenes, and their chemistry and timing are perfect together. Lastly, in a multitude of roles is Minnesota treasure Sally Wingert. She doesn’t get a lot of time in any one role, but she brings something, usually very funny, to each of the different ensemble characters she plays.

Kelli Foster Warder directs and choreographed the production. In terms of direction it does feel like this wasn’t an idea that fully came together, the casting and the decision to have the shop signs reflect those of actual business owned at the time by BIPOC are excellent ideas. The problem is that the script itself doesn’t really give you anything more to work with. Warder cannot add lines of dialogue or change the plot. There are some shows that just changing what you focus on or highlighting a certain aspect in the design can change the entire show fundamentally, Hello, Dolly!, not one of those it seems. The choreography for being such a pared down production is really quite entertaining. The ensemble has some really gifted dancers, I was particularly impressed by Dayle Theisen and Kyle Weiler. Sanford Moore is the Musical Director, his five piece band provides the exceelance we’ve come to expect from Theater Latté Da. The period costumes by Rich Hamson are fantastic, less so the sets by Eli Sherlock, which were functional, but looked a bit plain compared to the costumes.

Hello, Dolly! runs through March 19th at Theater Latté Da for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.latteda.org/hello-dolly

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