After commanding performances as Mama Rose
in "Gypsy" and Sarah Brown in "Guys and Dolls,"
Eileen Christensen stars as Dolly Levi in the Narrows Community
Theater production of "Hello Dolly!" directed by John
This musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s "The Matchmaker," has a book by Michael Stewart, and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. On Broadway it had the added attraction of director-choreographer Gower Champion’s brilliant staging, and the inimitable Carol Channing in the role of Dolly, the Yonkers matchmaker who has arranged so many people’s romantic lives and now decides it’s time she did the same for herself.
The show opened in 1964, and when audience attendance began to wane in 1967, producer David Merrick gave the show a shot in the arm with an all-black cast headed by Pearl Bailey. The very last Dolly was, ironically, Ethel Merman, who had declined to create the role in 1964, despite the fact that it had been written for her. When the show finally closed in 1970, it had run for 2,844 performances.
With that kind of a history, any actress embarking on the role of Dolly must do so with both awe and trepidation. But Christensen doesn’t falter or fail. Her Dolly is warm, funny, confident and just a bit vulnerable. She belts out songs like "Motherhood March," "I Put My Hand In" and "So Long Dearie" with an admirable joie de vivre.
And of course, there’s the musical’s signature number, "Hello Dolly!," which Christensen performs with the entire ensemble, and which inevitably brings down the house.
John Hefferman, who played Sky Masterson opposite Christensen’s Sarah Brown in "Guys and Dolls," now plays the timid and timorous Cornelius Hackl, the lowly clerk at Horace Vandergelder’s Feed Store who showers his attentions on a Manhattan hat-maker, Irene Molloy (Ann Gubiotti). Hefferman is a convincing romantic lead, and this time he shows a fine aptitude for comedy, too.
Rob Fahn (Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls") now takes the role of the cynical Horace Vandergelder, the man upon whom Dolly has set her sights. Fahn is a wonderful rascal, and he’s got a nice voice, too. Horace is not quite as lovable as Nathan, but he’s every bit as adept at avoiding the advances of the woman pursuing him.
"Hello Dolly!" has a strong ensemble. Dancer Terence Caufield, who danced Tulsa’s solo in "Gypsy" does a magnificent job in "Hello Dolly!" and certainly deserves another solo.
"Hello Dolly!" takes place in the Gay Nineties. This gives costume designer Mary Sullivan-Giles plenty of opportunities to bring out the parasols, crinolines and straw hats, which she does with some colorful results.
With an almost nonexistent plot, "Hello Dolly!" can be reduced to girl gets guy and guy gets girl. In fact, except for a few burlesque-like misadventures, the road to romance is relatively obstacle-free.
But the plot of "Hello Dolly!" is not intended to keep everyone in the audience at the edge of their seats. Its function is to provide the framework for the glitter and glitz of some of Broadway’s most spectacular song-and-dance numbers, as well as a few tender scenes, for instance, Irene and Cornelius’s duet, "It Only Takes a Moment."
"Hello Dolly!" is perhaps one of Broadway’s most frivolous offerings. It carries no social message like "West Side Story," nor does it lay claim to any proud heritage like "Les Miserables" or "Man of la Mancha." It’s pure amusement. And when it’s well done, it’s a real joy.
Narrows Community Theater’s "Hello Dolly!" plays at the Our Lady of Angels auditorium, at 7320 Fourth Ave. (enter on 74th Street, between Third and Fourth avenues) through April 6, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 8 pm. Tickets are $15, $10 seniors and children under 12. For reservations, call (718) 482-3173.
©2003 Community News Group
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