Hello, Dolly!, Jerry Herman’s meddling musical, opened in the Troutt Theater October 21 at 7:00 p.m. It was the first performance of the season for Studio Tenn, a theatre company based in Nashville that blends talent from Music City and Broadway to bring musical theatre to Middle Tenn.
Hello, Dolly! is a humorous story about Dolly Levi (Nan Gurley), a matchmaker who meddles in other people’s love lives while neglecting her own. She is a widow and continually prays to her deceased husband, Ephraim, asking him to let her go and be a woman again. You get a sense it’s not her husband keeping her at bay from pouncing on Horace Vandergelder (Chuck Wagner), the money bags of Yonkers. Rather, it’s her unwillingness to let her guard down.
Throughout the show, she strings Vandergelder along, distracting him with suitors as his niece, Ermengarde (Maggie McDowell) falls in love and escapes to New York City with Ambrose Kemper (Graham Keen) all with the help of Dolly, of course. While Vandergelder chases after his niece and the suitors, with Dolly in hot pursuit, his two store clerks, Cornelius Hackl (Larry Cox, Jr.) and Barnaby Tucker (Michael Mindlin) sing the toe-tapping “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and have some fun of their own in the Big Apple.
The show breaks off into two weaving stories of shenanigans. Vandergelder doesn’t like the two suitors Dolly has for him. Dolly, having no problem with being an independent woman, is ready for love as she sings “Before the Parade Passes By”. She hints and twists her words around Horace until he has no choice but to realize after she sings “So Long, Dearie” that he has no need for suitors, that a truly remarkable woman is standing right in front of him.
Cornelius finds love with Irene Malloy (Carrie Tillis), a hat maker who truthfully hates hats. They gaze into each other’s eyes during “It Only Takes a Moment”, a lovely duet that brings chills and a tear. Barnaby impressed the audience with his light-footed performance during the sweeping and swooping song, “Dancing”. He falls in love with Irene’s 17 year-old assistant, Minnie Fay (Ashley Anderson McCarthy).
There were some mess-ups, some premiere night jitters amongst the cast. During the song “Before the Parade Passes By” a gymnastic move almost turned horribly as the red curtains closed for intermission. The lighting in the beginning was spotty in some areas. There were some lines fumbled and some stumbles in the choreography.
Chuck Wagner, known for playing the Beast in Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast, Javert in Les Miserables and Van Helsing in Dracula the musical, gave a beautiful performance opposite the wonderful Nan Gurley. His deep voice melts even the strongest, independent woman. No wonder Dolly fell so hard!
Maggie McDowell, Belmont’s very own senior musical theater major, was great as the weeping Ermangarde. She didn’t overdo the role. She had just the right sobbing without being hysterically annoying. McDowell looked right at home amongst some of the Broadway veterans.
Ben Laxton, Keith Bishop and Casey Hebbel are also Belmont students who played in the ensemble. Laxton stood out amongst the other two. Every move was strong and sure. It was apparant he was soaking up all the positive energy of opening night. They were a joy to watch and did a great job representing Belmont.
The set is simple and never-changing except for a projector screen that shows different landscapes such as a train, Vandergeld’s hay and feed store and the Harmonia Garden’s Restaurant. Where the set is somewhat dull, the costumes are exquisite and eye-catching. Dolly’s flowing dresses and feathered hats are over-the-top to fit her bursting personality.
Hello, Dolly! is a fun-filled, toe-tapping, swaying and sweeping musical. The audience laughs and sympathizes with the realities of lost love and the struggle of getting back on one’s feet. The musical shows that even the most independent of women are in want of love.