Dolly lights the stage with her joy and energy

Musical: Sherry Kay Anderson and Kevin Wheatley lead a troupe of irrepressible singers and dancers.


February 07, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Having been a producer, director, actor, choreographer and costume designer - and even a cook - Sherry Kay Anderson is perfectly cast as that 1890s indomitable Jill-of-all-trades, Dolly Gallagher Levi.

For the next two months, the dynamic owner of Chesapeake Music Hall will answer to Hello, Dolly.

Last seen as the irrepressible Dolly in CMH's January 1998 production, the multitalented Anderson is, to paraphrase the show's title song, back where she belongs. When the show opened Saturday she lighted up the stage with her joy and energy.

Looking and sounding better than ever as she belted out songs and served up new dance moves, her Dolly was still glowing - despite having worked a full shift in the dinner theater's kitchen before going on stage.

Anderson has strong support from and great chemistry with Kevin Wheatley, reprising his 1998 role as wealthy merchant Horace Vandergelder. Wheatley reveals warmth and sly humor under his gruff and rather smug exterior, and he has great stage presence that matches Anderson's. He also can put over a song, as he proves with his distinctive version of "Hello, Dolly."

Anderson and Wheatley play well off each other as they engage in a spirited battle of the sexes. Dolly, a matchmaker-widow, has grown tired of scraping out a living. After first envisioning Irene Molloy, the hat-maker, to be Vandergelder's potential bride, Dolly shifts her matchmaking efforts from Molloy to someone she sees as more worthy - herself. Dolly sets her sights on this "half a millionaire" merchant, whose ardor cools as his potential partner's shortcomings are revealed to him.

At his shop, Horace Vandergelder expects his chief clerk, Cornelius Hackl, and assistant Barnaby Tucker to work long hours for minimal compensation with no evenings off. Tired of spending every night at Vandergelder's shop, the two workers decide to break out for a night on the town. As Cornelius, Alan Hoffman conveys an urgency to get on with his life by finally meeting a girl, while the younger Barnaby, played by Charlie Rogers, is more interested in visiting animals at the city zoo.

When the pair arrive at Irene Molloy's hat shop, the comedy soars. Cornelius is instantly smitten by the young widow who owns the hat shop, played by Peg Blacker. Meanwhile, the reactions of her frantic assistant, Minnie Fay, played to perfection by Mary Armour-Kaiser, range from feeling a reluctant attraction to Barnaby to recoiling in screaming fear.

With boss Vandergelder's arrival looming, Cornelius and Barnaby project a building hysteria that moves the farcical action to a new comic level.

The laughs keep coming as the young couples take off to explore New York, eventually arriving at one of the city's finest restaurants. Together, Rogers and Armour-Kaiser are outrageously funny and equally adorable. Hoffman and Blacker add to the fun and convey an element of romance.

The irrepressible Shannon Benil gives a strong performance complete with high comic moments. The entire troupe delivers complex dance numbers charged with great energy, most notably in the "Waiters' Gallop," in which they move with amazing speed and with precision that enables them to fly by each other without mishap. Once again Nicole Anderson more than holds her own in every number.

Amid this fun is composer Jerry Herman's memorable score, with great tunes such as "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," stylishly delivered by the entire ensemble. Then there's the greatest-ever-entrance music of the title song, which recalls a long list of great Dollys such as Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Ethel Merman, Martha Raye, Pearl Bailey and Barbra Streisand.

CMH's Dolly is going strong, bringing lots of laughs at Chesapeake Music Hall, where it will remain through April 6.

Ticket information: 800-406- 0306 or 410-626-7515.

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