27 May 2006

London Oratory School, Fulham

Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera’s production of “Hello Dolly” recently at London Oratory School. Thanks also to Dianne Norton for arranging my tickets. It was disappointing to see that the house wasn’t approaching full but I suppose it is a sign of the times with so much competition for our time.

Synopsis

Hello, Dolly! is the story of Mrs. Levi’s efforts to marry Horace Vandergelder, the well-known half-millionaire, so that she can send his money circulating like rainwater, as her late husband Ephraim Levi taught her. Along the way she also succeeds in that matching the young and beautiful Widow Molloy with Vandergelder’s head clerk, Cornelius Hackl; Cornelius’s assistant Barnaby Tucker with Mrs. Molloy’s loopy assistant, Minnie Fay; and the struggling artist Ambrose Kemper with Mr. Vandergelder’s weeping niece, Ermengarde. Mrs. Levi tracks Vandergelder to his hay and feed store in Yonkers, then by train back to Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop in New York, out into the streets of the city where they are all caught up in the great 14th Street Association Parade, and then to the most evident and expensive restaurant in town, the Harmonia Gardens, where Dolly is greeted by the waiters, cooks, doormen and wine stewards in one of the most famous songs in the history of American musical comedy, “Hello, Dolly!”

What happens in the end? Dolly gets her man, of course. And he is delighted she caught him. Dolly leaves the stage at the end of Act II with a wink to the audience as she takes a little peep into Vandergelder’s bulging cash register and promises that his fortune will soon be put to good use. She quotes her late husband Ephraim, “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure, it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.”

“Hello Dolly” is definitely one of the better musicals on the amateur circuit. Lots of well-known songs, great characters and colourful production numbers ensure the longevity of this particular show. I felt that this would be good choice of show for Wimbledon Light Opera Society.

The show opened with a rather cluttered, dull interpretation of ‘Call on Dolly’ and ‘I Put My Hand in’. There was very little movement and chorus reaction was basic and predictable. Sorry to be negative at the start but it did pick up. The highlight of the show was undoubtedly the Dolly entrance sequence at Harmonia Gardens. We had a lukewarm build up as there was very little anticipation amongst Rudolf and the waiters for the impending arrival of the lady herself. It was a dream of an entrance with glitter ball adding to the glamour of the piece and the whole number was head and shoulders above anything else in the show. It seemed from the outside that many hours were spent on this scene to the detriment of other scenes. ‘Elegance’ was slick and nicely done and the finale was very creative with a nice medley tableau. The company on occasions fell for the oldest trick in the book – if you can see the audience, they can see you! Too often there were cast members visible in the wings. So in terms of the production it was a pretty mixed bag. Director Alex Sutton was at the helm and his CV has professional credits but little mention of musicals. The Harmonia Gardens scene showed that there was good direction but it was sadly lacking in many other scenes. Holly Stout as Musical Director was returning to the fold after a break. I have always been impressed with Wimbledon Light Opera’s company singing and this was emphasised in this production. The orchestra were just fantastic. The choreography was pretty strong but on many occasions the ensemble just didn’t know what they were doing. I’ve already mentioned how good ‘Elegance’ was and we even had tap dancing in the main number. Credit for the choreography goes to Francesca McCoid, Alex Sutton and Jocelyne Wilson.

I thought technically it went very smoothly. The scenery looked very tired but then so much of Stage Productions stock has been around for so long. The costumes by and large were excellent. Dolly’s costumes were fantastic and lifted her above the crowd but Cornelius and Barnaby were scruffy. They are not meant to be smart but most of their clothes looked ripped or ill fitting.

In the lead role of ‘Dolly Levi’ we were introduced to Joanna Cohn. Joanna was a more youthful Dolly than many I have seen but I was happy for that. Very pleasing on the eye too and possessing a lovely soprano voice. I felt Joanna’s rendition of ‘So Long Dearie’ was too angry. She is toying with Vandergelder not criticising him. Joanna’s costumes as I have already mentioned were very elegant. I’m not sure though that Dolly would sit cross legged on steps nor would she point her knife at the Harmonia Gardens but that apart I thought she was great. Al Clogston as ‘Horace Vandergelder’ brought the dopey and comical side of the part to the fore. At times we verged on panto as Al dramatically cussed his way through another argument but I’m glad to say that there was no nastiness in this characterisation. Linda Pullinger and Hannah Richmond worked well together as the milliners ‘Irene Molloy’ and ‘Minnie Fay’ respectively. This was a well judged performance by Linda but could have done with a bit more sparkle. Hannah’s Minnie Fay was very sweet and coy – just about right. Our other intrepid duo were Juan Miralles as the courageous ‘Cornelius Hackl’ and Paul Hudson as the timid ‘Barnaby Tucker’. Juan sang well and Paul too did everything right but again I just felt they both lacked vim and verve. Kerry Wenham as ‘Ermengarde’ and Victoria Waddington as ‘Ernestina’ provided good support and decent back up was afforded by the other supporting players. There was strong ensemble vocals but there are some society members who clearly get ‘caught in the headlights’.

Once again thank you for inviting me to the London Oratory School and best wishes for your next production – the perennial classic “The Pirates of Penzance” at the Secombe Theatre in Sutton.

Apologies for this review taking longer than it should, I was in a production of my own at Richmond Theatre and have just moved house. Thanks for your perseverance. My new address is below.

I looking forward to seeing you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest Regards

Stephen Macvicar

NODA Rep

London Area 3