Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

Hello, Dolly!
National Tour
Review by Scott Cain | Season Schedule

Carolee Carmello and Cast
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
There's a tendency among younger theatergoers to assume that only recent musicals can be high-energy, funny and relatable. However, the current tour of Hello, Dolly!, a show written over 50 years ago and which takes place over 130 years ago, proves those assumptions to be false. Exquisite design and direction and a first-rate Broadway leading lady result in a hilarious, fast-paced valentine of a show for Cincinnati audience members of all ages.

Hello, Dolly! is the tale of the widowed Dolly Gallagher Levi, a hired matchmaker who also has plans to find a new mate for herself in New York circa 1885. Her affections are targeted at "half-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder. While setting her plans in motion, Dolly also tries to think of a way to convince Mr. Vandergelder to allow the marriage of his young niece Ermengarde to artist Ambrose Kemper. She also manages to foster romance for Vandergelder's two shop clerks, Cornelius and Barnaby, with hat shop owner Irene Molloy and her young assistant Minnie Fay. Dolly uses her varied skills, a little deception and blackmail, and her womanly ways to find a love and a happy ending for everyone, including herself.

The book by Michael Stewart is fairly straightforward in structure, but it contains many gems in the form of dialogue lines, character traits, and unique situations which can be mined for laughs or sentimental moments of wisdom. Jerry Herman provides the music and lyrics for this classic 1964 show, and his score includes many memorable tunes. Herman's bouncy melodies for the up-tempo numbers and pleasant tunes for ballads are combined with simple yet thoughtful lyrics throughout. The result is a score with many classic showtunes, such as "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," "Before The Parade Passes By," "Elegance," "It Only Takes a Moment," and the famous title song.

The recent Broadway revival, on which this tour is based, starred Bette Midler and then Bernadette Peters, but the true star of the production is director Jerry Zaks. Mr. Zaks has a long history staging successful revivals of older shows, including a revival of Herman's La Cage aux Folles. For this Dolly, he infuses constant movement, a vaudevillian take on several scenes (including several front of curtain moments), and a perfect tone that brings out both the comedy and the sensitivity of the piece to their fullest. Choreographer Warren Carlyle, taking cues from Gower Champion's original work, provides wonderful dances, many with exaggerated motions that befit the songs. Ben Whiteley leads a great sounding eighteen-member orchestra of both touring and local musicians.

Cincinnati is lucky to have Broadway veteran Carolee Carmello (Parade, Falsettos, The Addams Family) as Dolly Levi. She handles the vocals with great skill, and is either hilarious or touching (as appropriate) in delivering her material. Her comic timing is perfect, and she exudes warmth and wit in spades. It's hard to imagine anyone playing the role better. John Bolton is appropriately grumpy and chauvinistic as Horace, and sings well throughout.

As Irene Molloy, Analisa Leaming provides a tender delivery of "Ribbons Down My Back" and a gregarious and fresh take on the role that brings out extra laughs. Daniel Beeman is an active and forthright Cornelius Hackl and is a fine vocalist. Sean Burns (Barnaby), Chelsea Cree Groen (Minnie Fay), Laura Sky Herman (Ermengarde), and Colin LeMoine (Ambrose) all supply smile-inducing performances in supporting roles. The entire cast is praiseworthy for their commitment to their roles and in displaying a high-level of talent, including exceptional dancing and vocal support.

Forget the computer-generated projections of some recent touring productions—with Hello, Dolly!, we get beautiful and meticulously crafted backdrops as the foundation of the its design. The scenic designs by Santo Loquasto also include an impressive onstage train and a detailed hay and feed store which is used in several scenes. Loquasto also provides sumptuous period costumes in a breathtaking color palette. Natasha Katz's lighting is suitably soft and professionally rendered.

Hello, Dolly! may be old-fashioned by most definitions, but the current tour proves that a new vision of an older show can be a thrilling, funny, and superbly worthwhile production. Carolee Carmello provides a leading lady performance as good as any on Broadway currently, and this is a tour not to be missed.

Hello, Dolly! runs through December 15, 2019, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-621-2787 or visit For more information on the tour, visit