Before Broadway musicals were spectacles full of pyrotechnics or made meaningful critiques through a social justice lens or turned popular jukebox hits into extended dance parties, they were pretty, lovely, dreamy, funny escapes for a certain theater-going audience who wanted such things. They were full of big dance numbers and pretty costumes and silly characters who sang songs that made patrons leave the theater humming to themselves, maybe even a little lighter in step.
That’s “Hello, Dolly!” the 90th season opener of The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce “The Merchant of Yonkers,” with book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman.
It’s a sweet, old-fashioned, charming, feel-good 1960s musical love story throwback. And with new Artistic Director Tony Humrichouser at the helm, it’s done to the hilt with dynamic well-cast leads, a huge ensemble and truly stunning design.
Even for those of us who prefer more contemporary, systemically inclusive, and relevant musicals with a little more heft, this “Hello, Dolly!” is undeniably a beauty.
It starts and finishes with Dolly, of course, a meddling force to be reckoned with. She’s a larger-than-life widow, matchmaker and entrepreneur extraordinaire, who travels to Yonkers ostensibly to find a match for a wealthy old miser whom she ultimately wants for herself, and persuades several of the young folk there to go on a little adventure to New York City. The role was written for Ethel Merman and played by many of the boldest actresses to have graced the stage, including Carol Channing, who originated the role on Broadway in 1964, and Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters in the recent Broadway revival.
For this Kalamazoo production, beloved radio and television personality Lori Moore, a champion of the arts often spotted on Kalamazoo stages, is wonderfully cast in the role. With a more melodious voice than one might expect from this powerful belter, her character builds, grows and develops beautifully, particularly in her mad hustle and to a delightful crescendo in the climactic restaurant scene.
But even more so than this titular role, this is a show for its romantic leads, and here Humrichouser draws the most from a tremendous, well-chosen cast. Hal Hobson-Morse’s grumpy tightwad Horace Vandergelder is a wonderful counterpoint to Moore’s ebullient Dolly. Ken Holda as Cornelius and Taylor Gudbrandson as Irene are extraordinary together. Her singing is transcendent, particularly so in “Ribbons Down My Back,” and his comedy — particularly in dance and movement — is tremendous. They are a delight.
The entire show is beautiful to see and hear thanks to Marie McColley-Kerstetter’s musical direction and talented 13-piece orchestra, as well as David Kyhn’s elegant, sophisticated, Art Deco-inspired set with a glorious pastel palette of lights from AnnMarie Miller. Even beyond the lovely “Sunday Clothes,” from tailored trousers and glamorous gowns to bustles and booties and gorgeous millinery, Sara Tomaszewski’s costumes also lend themselves exquisitely to this pretty period piece.
And the grand ensemble numbers, from “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” to the “Waiter’s Gallop,” are elegantly staged with excellent choreography from Joseph NiCastro that runs the gamut from simple partner dancing to tap to acrobatics.
For any lover of classic musical theater, The Kalamazoo Civic’s “Hello, Dolly!” is undeniably excellent, a feast for the senses, and everything one wants from a light-hearted night at the theater. And even for those of us whose tastes run a little darker and a little deeper, there’s still a lot to be admired here.
Sep. 21-Oct. 7