Courtesy of Michelle Anliker Photography
Over the years, “Hello, Dolly!” has attracted its fair share of talent, both on and off Broadway. From Carol Channing's original Tony winning performance, to the recent revival featuring the indispensable Bette Midler, if you decide to produce this show, your Dolly should match that type of memorable, crowd pleasing energy.
Thankfully, The Encore Musical Theatre company’s recent attempt at this beloved Broadway property has a winning star in Marlene Inman, who proves she can stand toe to toe with the best of them and is nothing short of astounding.
Watching “Hello, Dolly!” leaves you in a delightful sensory whirlwind; from hearing Jerry Herman’s gorgeous score, to the allure at the first glance of Sharon Urick’s eye-popping costumes on steady display. But most likely, you'll become entranced by this cast's consistent devotion to the material. They never stop earning your attention; and the script by Michael Stewart allows the freedom to find surprising new meaning in a text that debuted over five decades ago.
Inman brings a poignancy to this production which cements her as a powerhouse working in regional theatre. She plays the titular Dolly, a motor-mouthed jack-of-all-trades whose primary employment is matching single, wealthy men with ladies desperate for a husband. Being a widow herself (and often taking sides to address her deceased husband Ephraim) affords us the liberty to embrace her role as the “meddler.”
Aside from those duties, she also teaches dance, mandolin, and (in some circumstances) even offers legal advice. At the top of the show, Dolly is seeking a mistress for the grumpy Horace Vandergelder (Keith Kalinowski), an owner of a nearby hay and feed shop, but as the show progresses it becomes clear that Dolly intends to marry Horace herself.
Meanwhile, Ambrose Kemper (Encore regular Connor Giles) an artist with big ambitions, wants to marry Horace’s melodramatic niece (Anna Dreslinkski Cooke) who doesn’t stop weeping. But as society dictates, Ambrose’s vocations aren’t guaranteed to leave him in the graces of a steady income and the match is therefore forbidden.
But, as you know, “it takes a woman” to peacefully live, and that’s a message Horace passes down to his young clerks, Cornelius (Doug Atkins who channels his inner Jerry Lewis on several occasions) and Barnaby Tucker (Cole Thompson breaking hearts as the 18 year old softie); though, working seven nights a week prevents them from picking up babes. Cornelius, in particular, is in his early 30s and has yet to procure a loving relationship. Fed up with their current standings, the two plan a last second trip to Yonkers, New York with a pact: they aren't leaving until they get kissed.
Of course Dolly has a few suggestions in her corner, recommending the two young men visit Irene Molloy (Sarah Brown), the owner of a prominent New York City hat shop, and Minnie Fay (Katy Maccutcheon) her assistant. This is all part of Dolly’s endgame, with the clashing of each individual character coming to a head at the polka competition inside the prestigious Harmonia Gardens Restaurant.
The staging by director Jamie Colburn is filled with rhythmically crafty movements that keep the show in check. The scenic design is equally impressive inside the confines of The Encore’s intimate setting. In one second, we’re inside the Harmonia Restaurant, and in the next, we have swiftly transitioned to a courtroom on a dime. Granted, during my performance, some of the scene changes were not completely seamless, but nonetheless scenic designer Jeremy Barnett creates a very memorable impression; including the decision to incorporate the orchestra (under the swift musical direction of Casey Becker) onto the stage. It’s fun watching the musicians become unique characters in their own show.
And holy cabooses, let’s talk about this ensemble. The Encore has assembled an array of talents new and old to the stage. Atkins, an equity performer making his Michigan debut, is perfectly satisfying to view as the hip Cornelius who eventually becomes interested in shop owner Irene- though, Horace would beg to differ. Atkins bounces around with the feel of someone eager to please, and his counterpart played by Cole Thompson keeps you smiling from ear to ear.
Other Encore regulars keep the pace steady and consistent. Whether it's galloping waiters performing some nifty sequences with serving trays (choreographer Rachel Constantino utilizes the space exceptionally) or tossing feed sacks through the shop, "Hello, Dolly!" is always moving and infectious.
Inman, of course, brings her own vulnerabilities and is frequently at odds with the show's broad sense of humor. In some cases, you might think "Hello, Dolly!" needs extra razzle dazzle to sparkle, and this production has that perfect extra touch with Inman, whose voice is warm and full of depth.
All the iconic songs are just as you remember them too, "Put on your Sunday Clothes," "Elegance," "Before the Parade Passes By" and the crowd pleasing titular song remain a staple within the musicals library of songs. "Hello, Dolly!" gives plenty of reason for audience members to take a trip down memory lane and to see what The Encore has cooked up this holiday season.
IF YOU GO:
"Hello, Dolly!" continues through December 23rd at The Encore Musical Theatre Company in Dexter, MI.
To purchase tickets you can call 734-268-6200 as well as visiting TheEncoreTheatre.org.