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Theater review

Pioneer Theatre says goodbye to season with a lively “Hello Dolly!”

Sat May 14, 2022 at 1:02 pm
Paige Davis stars in the title role of “Hello Dolly!” at Pioneer Theater Company. Photo: PTC

Pioneer Theatre Company is closing its season with some good old-fashioned fun: Jerry Herman’s classic musical Hello, Dolly!

The 1964 musical, which gave Carol Channing her signature role in its original Broadway production, has a long theatrical lineage. Based upon Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, the title character is Dolly Gallagher Levi, a sassy widow with a prodigious skill set and an equally prodigious supply of moxie. Dolly brings together several couples over the course of the show, but the most important match she arranges is for herself.

Paige Davis, best-known as co-host of the home-renovation series Trading Spaces and as former pitchwoman for a local furniture chain, plays the title role. No one who plays Dolly can escape comparisons to Barbra Streisand, and Davis’s serviceable vocals aren’t in that league. Instead, she takes charge of the show with irresistible comic timing and megawatt charm. Davis’s Dolly radiates joy, and the audience, like the characters in her orbit, can’t help but take her side.

Kris Coleman portrays the “well-known unmarried half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder, whom Dolly has decided to marry for his money. Like Davis, Coleman comes across a bit younger than audiences might expect for his character, which brings a playful edge to their banter. His singing is suave, and his snappy line delivery makes it clear that Horace is the rare man who can hold his own with Dolly.

Kelly McCormick brings depth to the milliner Irene Molloy, singing poignantly of her longing for romance in “Ribbons Down My Back.” Alexander Mendoza plays her love interest, store clerk Cornelius Hackl, with appealing innocence and an ardent tenor voice, while Michael J. Rios, who plays Cornelius’s sidekick Barnaby Tucker, dances with such verve that his stage time feels disappointingly short. Dori Waymer earns a lot of laughs with her nasal petulance as shop assistant Minnie Fay, but then reveals leading-lady pipes in the delightfully choreographed quartet “Elegance”—a surprise highlight of the evening.

Myles Tracy Woolstenhume and Hannah Balagot play Ambrose Kemper and Ermengarde Vandergelder, the other couple encouraged by Dolly. Both actors sing and dance with panache. Balagot does an admirable job keeping Ermengarde’s crying in check, salvaging a character who can often come across as grating.

Dolly is a throwback in many ways, both good (the exuberant song-and-dance numbers that propel the action) and not-so-good (the leading man’s gruffly matter-of-fact sexism). PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg, who directs this production, presents the plot straightforwardly and leans into the old-school energy of the musical numbers. 

The large cast sings with full-throated tone and executes the lively choreography of Azenberg and Lenny Daniel with vigor and precision. (The witty, athletic “Waiters’ Gallop” is worth the price of admission.) Music director Phil Reno led a 14-piece orchestra adding additional Broadway oomph. 

There is, however, one moment that feels grounded in the present day, when Davis slows down her delivery just enough to let Dolly’s observation about the difference between a little money and no money, and the difference between a little money and an enormous amount of money, sink in. The choices by the actor and director make the moment feel pertinent but not preachy.

James Noone’s scenic design is simple but effective. Black-and-white backdrops, suggesting pencil sketches, depict the streets of Yonkers and New York City, and the indoor settings are similarly economical. 

This puts the focus on Eduardo Sicangco’s fabulous costume designs, featuring classic Victorian silhouettes generously embellished with bows, bustles and ruffles. Sicangco serves up a delicious array of colors—pistachio and chocolate for Dolly, butterscotch and cranberry for Irene, lemon and raspberry for Minnie—but the real show-stopper is Dolly’s gown in the Harmonia Gardens scene, resplendent in metallic hues and topped with a glorious plumed headpiece.

The penultimate scene in the courtroom will feature cameos by a lineup of Utah celebrities in the role of the judge. Martell L. Teasley, interim senior vice president of academic affairs and provost at the University of Utah, did the honors on opening night.

__________

Before Friday’s curtain, Azenberg announced the company’s 2022-23 season, which will include four musicals: Shucked, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s screen-to-stage musical adaptation of A Christmas Story, the Stephen Sondheim revue Putting It Together, and the recent Broadway hit The Prom. 

There will also be a production of Molière’s farce Scapin, updated to the 1960s, and the world premiere of Kareem Fahmy’s A Distinct Society, a drama that takes place in a library on the U.S.-Canada border. The seventh, yet-to-be-announced show will be staged in a new, smaller performing space in the University of Utah’s nearby Einar Nielson Fieldhouse.

Hello, Dolly! runs through May 28 at the Roy W. and Elizabeth E. Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre; pioneertheatre.org

Calendar

May 18

Pioneer Theatre Company
Hello Dolly!
7 p.m. Simmons Memorial […]


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