“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.