Chesapeake production of 'Dolly' is pure delight

January 22, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dolly Levi, the irrepressible matchmaker and jack-of-all-trades whose story is told in "Hello, Dolly" kept fast company back in the 1960s.

In those days, the musical was a Broadway megahit along with "Fiddler on the Roof," "Mame" and "Funny Girl." Alas, while "Funny Girl" became the blockbuster film that launched Streisand, "Mame" was snapped up by amateur theater groups everywhere and "Fiddler" entered the Broadway pantheon, "Dolly" didn't quite keep up.

But even though the show doesn't have the star appeal it did when New York audiences were queuing up on 44th Street, there's no doubt that a properly cast "Dolly" can still make a room sway and a band play with the best of them.

So I was tickled to see "Dolly" in action at the Chesapeake Music Hall on Sunday afternoon with Sherry Kay, the CMH's co-owner, co-producer, choreographer, costumer and general manager, in the title role.

She is delightful in all respects -- spirited, funny and engaging, with great pipes and legs to match.

Her Dolly is elegant in the big title-song moment, wistful and sad in those sweet conversations she has with her late husband and a motor-mouth supreme as she fast-talks her way into the heart of crusty Horace Vandergelder of Yonkers.

Occasionally, Kay has trouble reaching the bottom notes in this role, which is set low in the voice to begin with. But Dolly handles the lower register the way she handles everything else. She just charms her way out of it. (The ensemble, has the same problem, but in the other direction. It's thrown by the upper range in the choral numbers.)

I also liked Kevin Wheatley, who's gruff, dyspeptic and cute as the dickens as he brings Horace to life. He might want to consider less gravel in his voice, however, for he sounds like a completely different character when he sings (nicely, by the way).

There are lovely performances from Sue Bell, who is liltingly vulnerable as Irene Malloy, and from Dave Reynolds, Jeremy Ragsdale and the wonderful Mary Armour-Kaiser, who provide most of the laughs.

Some transitions have a way to go (the segue into "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" is still messy), and I wish the synthesized tape could give us more of a crescendo into Dolly's big song.

Quibbles aside, though, I was charmed by the show, and when Horace sang "Hello, Dolly" to his wife-to-be at the end, I had tears in my eyes. Indeed, it's nice to have Dolly back where she belongs.

"Hello, Dolly" plays at the Chesapeake Music Hall through March 15. Call 410-626-7515 for details.

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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