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Hello Dolly! - New Wimbledon Theatre (Review)

Hello Dolly

Review by David Munro

HELLO Dolly! is one of Broadway’s most successful musicals. At one time it held the record for the longest running musical on Broadway and it probably holds the unofficial record for the number of well-known theatrical and film ladies who have played the title role, including Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable and Dorothy Lamour.

Its antecedents reach back into the 19th Century and a play by John Oxenford, A Day Well Spent, about two apprentices having a night on the town (this was revived some years ago at the National Theatre with Felicity Kendal “en travestie” as one of the apprentices).

The play was adapted into German under the title Einen Jux Will Er Sich Machen which became the basis for a play by Thornton Wilder in 1938, entitled The Merchant of Yonkers (as you will see the emphasis is changing from the apprentices to their master).

Wilder revised his play in the 1950s as The Matchmaker, again changing the emphasis to a female who arranges marriages and it was this last incarnation that formed the basis of Michael Stewart’s book for Hello Dolly!

Originally entitled Call on Dolly it had a difficult pre-Broadway try-out; additional songs by Robert Merrill were added and revisions were made to the book, resulting in a triumphant opening on Broadway in January 1964.

The title role was originally intended for Ethel Merman who turned it down, as did Mary Martin (both of whom subsequently played it – Merman on Broadway, Martin in London) with the result that the role went to the actress who is now closely identified with it – Carol Channing.

A film version with Barbra Streisand in the title role was made in the 1960s which was not a great success.

The plot concerns a rich merchant, Horace Vandergelder, who requires a wife and employs Dolly Levi to find him one. But Dolly decides she wants him for herself.

She arranges for him to meet a New York milliner, Irene Molloy, and while he is away his two young salesmen decide to slip away to New York as well; resulting in mix-ups and misunderstandings. Needless to say, all ends happily and Dolly gets her man.

The touring production now at Wimbledon is a very handsome beast. The costumes by Anthony Wright are outstanding for a tour and would grace a West End production.

The dancers and dancing is excellent with one outstanding number – the Waiters Gallop in the second act – and the production goes with a swing; the pleasant settings by Alan Miller Bunford change effortlessly and enhance the action kept flowing under the competent direction of Chris Colby.

With two exceptions the cast maintain the high level of the production. David McAlister makes Vandergelder suitably grumpy and his surrender to Dolly in the end is moving and convincing. Louise English gives Irene Molloy the necessary charm and grace to attract a suitor and she manages her principal number – Ribbons Down My Back – stylishly even though the night I saw her, her voice seemed slightly under the weather.

As her assistant, Minnie, Amanda Salmon squeaks and gurgles like a good ’un and is sufficiently attractive to trap Hamilton Sargent’s shy and insecure Barnaby, one of the errant shopboys.

But Hamilton Sargent seemed to me to be underused, he has a good sense of comedy and his dancing, (at least that which he was allowed to do), seemed of a high standard and worthy of better things.

The final couple in the equation, Vandergelder’s daughter and her ungainly swain, both underwritten parts, were competently fleshed out by Carol Ball and Samuel Board.

So far so good, and I wish I could report favourably on Darren Day’s Cornelius Hackle and, most of all, Anita Dobson’s Dolly – but in all honesty I can’t.

Darren Day seemed to be walking through the part and though he handles his numbers effectively, his make-up, hair and general air of dishabille gave the impression of Boris Johnson’s younger brother who had somehow got lost in Yonkers and was making the best of a bad job.

Anita Dobson gave an effective performance of a hard Jewish matron ingratiating herself on society but for me it was not Dolly Levi. The humour was forced and insincere; it was an “Oh look at me, I’m being a funny leading lady!” performance completely lacking in humanity, so that one got a nasty taste in the mouth when she finally trapped Vandergelder.

Other Dollys I’ve seen have managed throughout the character’s finagling to retain a sense of warmth and underlying sincerity, highlighted during the asides to her dead husband, and one was able to feel that under the façade they would make Vandergelder honest and sincere wives.

Anita Dobson gave an interpretation more suited to Lorelei Lee than Dolly Levi, her asides to her dead husband were just lines in the script and seemed pointless as the character was portrayed.

I hasten to add that this is my view and was not shared by others who have also seen the show and found it unalloyed pleasure, so don’t be put off by me, as overall the show is well worth seeing and if you enjoy musicals, should not be missed.

I just felt it was a beautiful setting surrounding a flawed centre – it is your prerogative to disagree.

Hello Dolly by Michael Stewart.
Music and Lyrics – Jerry Herman (additional songs by Robert Merrill).
Director – Chris Colby.
Choreographer – David Kort.
Set designer – Alan Miller Bunford.
Costume designer – Anthony Wright.
Lighting – Colin Wood.
Sound – Nick Sagar.
Musical director – David Beer.
CAST: Anita Dobson; Darren Day; Carol Ball; Samuel Board; David McAlister; Sophie Wilkins; Hamilton Sargent; Amanda Salmon; Louise English; Christopher Marlowe; Matt Byham; Phil Carroll; Jaime Cox; Philip Coyle; Vicki Davids; Andres Lynette-Young; Billy Mitchell; Katy Osbourne; Samm Price; Helen Rymer; Louise Stanton; Aaron Sweeney-Harris; Owen Woodgate; Hannah Woolley.
Presented by Chris Moreno.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Mon, March 24 – Sat, March 29, 2008

  1. I Loved the show it was better than you said amazing!

    Rob    Mar 30    #
  2. I find it extremely difficult to take this review seriously. This is because there are some glaringly obvious factual inaccuracies contained within. For example, Ermengarde is not ‘Vandergelder’s daughter’, she is his niece; he refers to her as such more than once. Secondly, she is played by Sophie Wilkins rather than Carol Ball, as stated. Miss Ball plays Ernestina Money and Mrs Rose. This information is contained within the theatre programme, copies of which are usually distributed free to legitimate members of the press and reviewers. If Mr Munro did not receive a complimentary programme then he might have been more astute if he had invested the sum of three pounds and purchased a copy. That may have saved him the embarrassment of appearing to be an idiot. However, that three pounds saved might now be better spent on a box of tissues to wipe the egg off his face.

    Anita Dobson and Darren Day both gave consummate performances and inhabited their characters with polish and aplomb. I do respect Mr Munro’s right to his own opinion, but it lacks credance because of his sloppy information gathering. Other more discerning theatre critics and theatre-goers alike will, undoubtedly, take this review with more than just a liberal pinch of salt as a result.

    Perhaps before Mr Munro wields his poisoned pen again he will pause to ensure that the most fundamental of facts are correctly reported. Only then wil his opinions be considered to be more than just an acerbic tirade.

    steve    Apr 2    #