Have an Old-Fashioned Grand Old Time! “HELLO DOLLY!”

Northeast Florida Conservatory Theatre Review

A Dual Critics Review by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

Do you want to have an old-fashioned grand old time? Then be sure to catch Northeast Florida Conservatory’s production of Jerry Herman’s “Hello Dolly!” which opened on April 21 and will remain on stage until April 30, 2017. This is pure escapist fun in an exuberant revival of one of the greatest shows in musical theatre history. The conservatory is located at 11363 San Jose Boulevard, Building 200, in Jacksonville, Florida. For additional information and tickets, call (904) 374-8639, or visit www.nfconservcatory.org. NFC also has a Facebook page.

Founder and Executive Director of the Conservatory, Richard Dickson, decided three years ago that in addition to the musical education and the many related events offered by this marvelous asset to our city, he was going to add theatrical programming and present the best musicals of all time. The large-cast productions were a resounding success, attracting outstanding talent and full-house audiences. “Dolly” is the ninth production, and will be followed by “The Wizard of Oz,” which opens August 11. Mr. Dickson not only cast and co-directed “Dolly,” he also conducted the fifteen-piece orchestra, and played keyboard.

Do we really need to outline the plot of this classic? Doesn’t everyone know the story of Dolly Levi, the widowed matchmaker who has so many sidelines that she has business cards for each one? She can best be described as simultaneously charming and gently sharklike. Her beloved husband died several years ago, and she’s lonely and tired of having to work so hard to support herself while remaining impoverished. She has her eye on remarriage to Horace Vandergelder, a widowed half-a-millionaire from Yonkers who is actively seeking a marriage partner and is currently one of her clients.  She needs to persuade him that none of the ladies he is interested in are right for him, while she is a perfect match. Along the way, she creates obstacles and complications for others with romantic entanglements.

The exhilarating production numbers range from the title song “Hello Dolly” to others that are cherished romantic favorites; the list includes “It Takes a Woman,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and ”It Only Takes a Moment.”

As Irene Molloy, Clare Hambleton, a hat shop owner Vandergelder initially hoped to marry, sings the lovely “Ribbons Down My Back.” (The role has been double cast, with alternate performances by Alexandra Blackwell). Bailey Myers, a Mandarin High School junior, portrays a very animated Minnie Fay, Mrs. Molloy’s sales clerk. The two make a perfect team.

Horace Vandergelder’s character has clearly been influenced by Scrooge: the Yonkers store owner is tight with his money, and is a tyrant who overworks his staff, although he later finds redemption. Mark Snitzer, who has been involved in local theatre for over forty years, appeared in memorable roles at NFC in “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Oliver,” and “Oklahoma,” and is wonderful as Dolly’s Vandergelder.

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Actors Evan Bowen as Cornelius and Colin Harden as Barnaby make quite a team as the store owner’s two young clerks from Yonkers looking for adventure in New York City. Mr. Bowen is very active in the local musical scene; he recently appeared in “Bye Bye Birdie” at Orange Park Community Theatre, and is currently rehearsing for “Legally Blonde” in Callahan. Mr. Harden sings in a rock band and is a high school sophomore.

The scene filled with dancing waiters in the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant was a crowd favorite. Justin Reynolds was clearly in command as Rudolph, the head waiter. The six waiters listed in the program were teenage girls who put on quite a show as they juggled baking sheets and other food-related items. The dance troupe included Megan Trefry, Austin Burney, Jodie Jernigan, Madeline Gamel, Louise Everett, and Kiana Soriano.

Ambrose Kemper is another client who has asked for Dolly’s help with a romantic problem. He is an artist who hopes to marry Vandergelder’s niece Ermengarde; her uncle won’t agree because he doesn’t think Kemper can ever make enough money to support her. Kemper is portrayed by Christopher DuClos, who previously appeared as the Artful Dodger in NFC’s production of “Oliver.” Ermengarde was played in the production we saw by Audrey Everett, another “Oliver” veteran. (The role has also been double cast, with alternate performances by Rebecca Shaw).

The entire show revolves around Dolly Gallaher Levi, and is one of the most coveted roles in musical theatre, ranking up there with Mama Rose in “Gypsy” and Auntie Mame in “Mame.” Regina Torres is wonderful in every aspect of the role and the audience loved her. If you have been a regular theatre patron in this area, you will have seen her name featured in a wide variety of musical theatre and operatic roles, which have included appearances in operas presented in Gainesville, St. Augustine, and Tampa. Her impressive credits fill almost an entire page in NFC’s program. She is certainly one of the very best actresses we have ever seen in the role of Dolly. Don’t miss her outstanding performance.

This show was co-directed and choreographed by Roxanna Lewis; this was her fifth NFC production. A tremendously talented lady, she has worked professionally on and off Broadway and in many other venues as a director, choreographer, actress and dancer. Locally, she recently directed and choreographed Theatre Jacksonville’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” In August, she will be premiering her multi-media piece “String Theory” at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Fest. The dancing was one of the high points of NFC’s “Dolly.”

This theatre is amazing when it comes to sets; production staff is able to create wide vistas within a limited space. Justin Reynolds designed and constructed the set, in addition to learning his lines for his role as the head waiter.

The other cast members sang, danced and handled a number of smaller roles. These enthusiastic performers included Holly Silvia, Ben Lombardi, Rhoda London, Patty Everett, Kathryn Resio, Darlene Noel, McKenzie Scarborough, Megan Cunningham, Rose Montana, Samuel Gamel, Caleb Harden, Richard Stritter, Brian Gamel, Nicole Gamel, Greg Everett, and Candis Broward.

Juanelle Marshall was the Costume Designer, and did a terrific job with costumes that reflected the era; a monumental job, as there were over thirty cast members.

Thanks go to Brian Gamel for putting together the fine program with color photos of all of the cast members. We loved it.

For many of you, watching NFC’s “Hello Dolly” will be like putting on a pair of comfortable shoes that you have had for some time and then unexpectedly discovering that they have been all polished up — shiny and new. We guarantee you won’t be disappointed with this show. And bring the kids, this musical is very kid-friendly and NFC is a great venue for introducing youngsters to live theatre.


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.