Hello, Dolly!, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London
Thursday 13 August 2009
In the bloated 1969 film version of the musical Hello, Dolly!, even the flagrantly opulent sets didn't stand a chance against a screen-hogging Barbra Streisand in the title role. Samantha Spiro, fresh from her turn in Funny Girl has scary shoes to fill as the widowed busybody Dolly Gallagher Levi. She wears them lightly. Small, neat and budgerigar-like, she nips around, sticking her beak into everyone's affairs.
The story, based on Thornton Wilder's 1954 play The Matchmaker, isn't complicated: it's about what happens when an irresistible force (Dolly) meets an immovable object (Horace Vandergelder, the miserly, friendless half-millionaire she's set her sights on marrying) in Yonkers, circa 1890.
Their flirtation and courtship – if you can call it that – isn't just antagonistic, it's downright hostile. The chauvinistic Horace (Allan Corduner, on good, blustery form) would rather snuggle up to a cash register than a flesh-and-blood woman. He wants a wife who's fragile, "powdered and pink", yet happy to be a skivvy and joyfully fix the plumbing. The motor-mouthed Dolly, as fragile as a tow-truck, barges her way into his affections, unearthing a better, more pleasure-loving man in the process.
Between explosions of temper, Corduner does his best to make Horace's change of heart convincing. He's often amusing, especially when fending off the advances of Ernestina, a cigar-chomping, bosomy fright in pink ruffles. Spiro, meanwhile, works hard to make bossiness appealing, and her rendition of "Hello, Dolly!" is like a warm embrace and wins us over.
Jerry Herman's nostalgia-fest of a musical is big, brash and silly, forever teetering on the brink of saccharine. Timothy Sheader's staging offers a pure jolt of light relief, carefully building up audience goodwill with its pretty, sometimes striking stage pictures.
Stephen Mear ringmasters the dancers well. There's a delightfully choreographed train sequence, and it's splendid when the whole cast parades down the aisles in their candy-coloured bodices and bowlers during the rousing "Put On Your Sunday Clothes".
The show emerges as a celebration of the possibility of love, even for people who have ringfenced their hearts against it. The evening belongs as much to Daniel Crossley's Cornelius Hackl, Horace's hapless employee, as it does to the heroine. Hackl runs off to New York, where he ends up falling for a beautiful milliner (Josefina Gabrielle, captivating). Crossley makes for a wonderful romantic clown in the role, at times almost lunatically sweet.
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