HELLO DOLLY: YOU’RE STILL GOING STRONG

St.Augustine’s Limelight Theatre opened that wonderful family musical, “Hello Dolly” on June 5, 2015; it will run through July 5, 2015 on the Matuza Main Stage. The theatre is located in downtown at 11 Old Mission Avenue, and has ample free parking available for patrons. Tickets are selling fast; call 904-825-1164 or visit limelight-theatre.org for reservations and additional information.

The Michael Stewart musical, with music and lyrics by collaborator Jerry Herman, is on everybody’s list of top musicals. The play opened on Broadway in 1964, and was awarded ten Tonys. This classic musical is a joyride through the glory days of early New York and it is impossible to resist the audience-embracing charisma of songs like “Hello Dolly,” “Elegance,” and “It Only Takes a Moment.”

The story is that of the widow, Dolly Levi, who, after a prolonged period of mourning, is struggling to support herself and hoping to find a suitable spouse to replace her deceased husband. She is well known for her skills as a matchmaker, and is currently engaged in the process of finding a wife for Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy Yonkers feed and grain merchant. While the plot is a bit predicable, the performance by this large cast is excellent, and we had as much fun watching them as they had bringing the era to life.

DOLLY04Starring as Dolly is 2003 Flagler College graduate, Kriston Pidcock. Limelight audiences who saw the 2013 production of “Spamalot” learned that she had a fabulous singing voice when she appeared as the Lady of the Lake. As Dolly, she once again wraps her rich polished voice around marvelous songs and they feel as fresh as the day they were penned.

The role of Horace Vandergelder could not have been cast any better than in the capable hands of Peter Gutierrez. He is tall, has a commanding on-stage presence, and is a fine comedian and singer.

On the evening we saw the play, Tim Colee appeared in an understudy role as Cornelius, a store clerk employed by Vandergelder. (Note: Joe Kemper will play Cornelius in future appearances, Colee will join the ensemble). Cornelius is accompanied by his friend Barnaby (Craig Wickless); the two, a well-cast duo, travel from Yonkers to New York seeking adventure.  Jacksonville audiences may recall seeing Mr. Wickless previously in the Mae West biography “Dirty Blonde” at ABET, and as Dracula in “Young Frankenstein” at Players by the Sea.

The naïve young men fall in love with millinery shop operators Minnie Fay, played by Nicole Outlaw, and Irene Malloy, played by Megan Morton, who has a lovely voice and whom we recall seeing in the Alhambra Dinner Theatre’s production of “My Fair Lady” a few seasons back.

Two of the scenes were real crowd pleasers, judging from the spontaneous applause. “When the Parade Passes By” featured most of the cast, in a parade, of course, and the addition of mannequins dressed as clowns was a nice touch.

The most popular scene of the musical is Dolly’s entrance into the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where she and the entire ensemble sing the signature song. When we have seen this in the past, Dolly has always been dressed in a bright red gown, to match the restaurant’s décor. Ms. Pidcock wore a beautiful yellow-gold gown, which blended well with the scene.

The traditional dancing waiters and waitresses, always a crowd favorite, featured James Desmond, with his wonderful beard, as headwaiter, and an ensemble of dancers choreographed by Stephanie Burkhardt and Carol Dickens. They included Praniti Kudre, Savannah Lawless, Alexander Lawless, Wendy Parkulo, Kyle Thompson, Izabelle Noelle Unice, Graciela Fernandez, William Nance, Alex Merrakos and Paxton Peterson.

Others in featured roles were equally noteworthy. They included Cathy O’Brien as Ernestina, Ella Romaine as  Emengarde, Chase Lawless as Ambrose Kemper, and Cathy Swann as Rose.

The colorful set by Scenic Designer John Bondi was cleverly conceived, using many set pieces brought on and off to create locations. Two large ceiling to floor flats had New York skyscrapers on one side and modest shops on the other and were skillfully rotated. Samantha Mack and assistant Alison Zador’s costume designs captured old New York and we especially enjoyed the selections for Dolly’s attire.

Micah Laird was the Production Manager, Richard Curran-Kelley the Stage Manager, with Amanda Arany assisting.

The Musical Director, also on keyboard, was Shelli Long, with Jack Miller (Drums), Alex Hernandez (Woodwinds), Greg Balut (Trumpet), and Damon Martin (Bass).

Well known actor, singer, director, and producer Blake Osner from Jacksonville directed this energetic version of a classic. Mr. Osner is no stranger to St. Augustine audiences, having produced and starred in “A Taste of Broadway” at St. Augustine’s The Raintree.  He also appeared in the Rocky Horror Show at Limelight, and has appeared in leading roles in a number of other locations.

Side Note: “Hello Dolly” has a particularly interesting history. It opened on Broadway over fifty years ago and reached almost three thousand performances. Its origin can be traced back to 19th century England. The musical was based on Thornton Wilders 1955 comedy “The Matchmaker” which was derived from Wilder’s 1938 failed play “The Merchant of Yonkers” which in turn came from Johann Nesgtrooy’s 1842 play based on an 1835 one-act play by John Oxenford. Carol Channing opened the show in 1964 to rave reviews; it had an original title of “Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman.” Ms. Channing claimed the portrayal of Dolly as her signature role, and appeared as Dolly almost five thousand times. Jacksonville residents were lucky to see her farewell tour at the age of 85 in 1996, as a part of the FSCJ Artist Series.

For two hours of great fun, don’t miss Limelight’s delightful Dolly!!

 

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

october, 2021

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