Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Yavapai College Performing Arts Center in Prescott has found another formidable famous woman to portray the meddling matchmaker in Grammy-winning singer Toni Tennille. Tennille may be best known for the chart-topping 1970s pop hits she recorded with her husband Daryl Dragon as Captain & Tennille, but she also fronted the national tour of Victor/Victoria in 1998 and 1999, and after retiring to Prescott a little over 10 years ago has been involved in various local arts organizations. While her well-known warm singing voice on her pop hits may have lost some of its shine and sparkle, it is still fairly strong and clear, and she delivers a rousing and winning performance as Dolly, with a talented group of supporting actors, a large ensemble, and rich creative aspects that make this a lush, gorgeous and joyous production.
Based on Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker, Hello, Dolly! is set in New York City in the late 1800s and follows widow Dolly Levi, a spunky, determined, and fast-talking woman of many talents who provides her services, including matchmaking, for a fee. Her latest assignment is finding a bride for the wealthy merchant Horace Vandergelder. But Dolly, who encourages all of those around her to find joy in their lives, has several other plans in motion, setting all of those around Vandergelder, including his overworked clerks and young niece, off to seek adventure and love in New York City. Will the resourceful Dolly also find some joy and happiness herself?
The musical has a winning score by Jerry Herman that features over a half dozen well-known, toe-tapping songs and a fairly fast-paced book by Michael Stewart. While the almost 60-year-old show is somewhat dated in how it stereotypically depicts all of its female characters as husband-seekers, it also gives all of the women, especially Dolly, the upper hand in their relationships. There is also an good amount of female empowerment in the plot that makes this show, which is set 25 years before women got the right to vote, quite forward thinking. It's also a whole lot of fun.
Under the co-direction of Craig John Ralston and Scottie Scott, Tennille and her cast deliver performances that are comically sharp without shortchanging the few moving moments in the plot, including Dolly's heartwarming and emotional journey. The large cast also do very well dancing the period steps choreographed by Pamela Cannedy and Stepan Oleksyn, which includes not only a large tap segment in "It Takes a Woman," but also, with a group of 18 cast members dressed as waiters, a fun and fairly elaborate "The Waiters' Gallop" that is a major crowd pleaser.
Toni Tennille may not be known as a stage actress or a comedienne, but she clearly has years of experience performing on stage during the many concert appearances she had with Captain & Tennille and here she creates a lovable portrayal of Dolly. She brings a lot of humor to the role with good comic timing that squarely lands almost every one of Dolly's humorous lines and jokes. She also instills the part with a giant heart and copious charm. At 82, her voice is somewhat deeper than what we heard on her hit records, and her songs in the show that have sustained high notes are short and occasionally clipped, but she still has plenty of power and control in her vocal delivery. She also looks like she is having an absolute blast as she delivers a larger-than-life performance of this lovable woman.
Co-director Craig John Ralston is doing double duty as the cantankerous Horace Vandergelder and he is appropriately irritable and short tempered in the part but also shows that Horace has some warmth and charm underneath his rough exterior. As Dolly's friend Irene Molly, Stephanie Zeh is bright and spirited, and Wesley Traver is charming and fun as Horace's underappreciated clerk Cornelius. Zeh and Traver have lovely singing voices that shine on their numerous songs. As Horace's other overworked clerk Barnaby Tucker and Irene's assistant Minnie Fay, James Howell and Georgia Harrington make a winning duo with lovely vocals, bright line delivery and fun portrayals. In smaller roles, Julie Woolsey and Makena Morishima are good as Horace's niece and the man she is in love with.
While no set designer is listed in the program, there are several colorful backdrops as well as a large moveable unit for Horace's shop and some effective pieces that create Irene's hat shop. There is also a horse-drawn carriage and a train engine and car that add a nice element to the show and are audience pleasers. The costumes by Joanne Cole, Adriana King, Holli Paquette, and Ashley Place are exceptional period-perfect designs, including four superb gowns for Tennille that enhance the production and continually provide, set against the bright set pieces, gorgeous stage images. Music director Joshua Harper derives rich and powerful vocals from the large cast and a warm sound from the 21-piece orchestra.
Hello, Dolly! is a fun and charming show with plenty of well-known songs including "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," "It Only Takes a Moment," "Before the Parade Passes By," and the title number. With a winning star turn by Toni Tennille as the lovable Dolly, Yavapai College Performing Arts Center's production is a bright, colorful and beautiful production of this classic musical.
Hello, Dolly! runs through November 20, 2022, at Yavapai College Performing Arts Center, 1100 East Sheldon Street, Prescott AZ. For tickets and information, please visit https://www.ycpac.com or call 928-776-2000.
Book by Michael Stewart