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HELLO, DOLLY! at Shea’s is everything I think a musical should be.

THE BASICS: HELLO, DOLLY!, the touring production of the Broadway musical by Jerry Herman presented by Shea’s and Albert Nocciolino, starring Carolee Carmello, opened on Tuesday, March 10 and runs the standard 8 performances through March 15, Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 & 8, and Sun at 2 & 7 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street (1-800-745-3000). Runtime: 2 – 1/2 hours with one intermission (full-service bar, coffee, snacks, souvenirs)

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: In 1885 in New York City, the well-known and beloved widow Dolly (nee Gallagher) Levi is a matchmaker, full of chutzpah and a Jill of all trades. Whatever you lack, Dolly can provide, from dance lessons to true love. Her clients are the grouchy Yonkers entrepreneur Horace Vandergelder (a “half-a-millionaire”) as well as a young artist named Ambrose Kemper, in love with Horace’s niece and ward, Ermengarde, whom Vandergelder feels compelled to protect from life with that starving artist. But now, after ten lonely years as a widow, Dolly has set her cap for Vandergelder, and the farce begins with curtains, doors, mixed up wallets, and in the end eight lonely people becoming four loving couples.

Carolee Carmello knows what’s important in life in Hello, Dolly! National Tour – Photograph by Julieta Cervantes 2019

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: If a Martian were to land and say “Greetings Earthling. Quickly, please, what is a Broadway musical?” I would say “Let’s go see HELLO, DOLLY! at Shea’s. It’s all there.”

And indeed, it is. Everyone who was ever involved in any way with a high school production, musical, or (as we used to call them) operetta will be thrilled at seeing a very old-school, no-electronic-gimmickry, use-all-the-tricks-in-the-book show done in a first-rate style.

Let’s say you were you in the stage crew. You will love the dazzling combination of false proscenium and tormentors to shrink the massive Shea’s stage, and a beautiful set of grand drapes brought in by the touring company. (How do they travel with them and then get the wrinkles out?) And then there are painted scrims which are slowly backlit to reveal the next scene with more painted backdrops (in the old severe perspective style) than I could count. And a horse-drawn wagon. And a locomotive. And a dramatic night court set.

The flow is of action is a study in how it’s supposed to be. The scenes changed smoothly and the actors seemed very confident of their surroundings. The first act, 80 minutes long, just flew by. The difference between Broadway productions and most others is how tightly everything clicks together, especially the dancing, without hesitation.

The showstopper scene culminates in the signature song “Hello, Dolly!” inside the so-called “Harmonia Restaurant” with grand central staircase and two curtained-off private dining rooms all of which, when it was assembled before our eyes, received great applause, but wait, there’s more. Dolly’s entrance is spectacular. That’s all I’m going to say.

Dolly’s entrance is spectacular. That’s all I’m going to say.

Now, I’m sure that the audience was rooting for Carolee Carmello who was filling the shoes of the woman most identified with the role of Dolly, Carol Channing, who passed away just over a year ago. Channing originated the role in 1964, won a Tony for Best Actress in this Musical that garnered nine additional Tonys, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score. It has quite a pedigree, based on a play that Thornton Wilder (remember OUR TOWN?) wrote and then rewrote as THE MATCHMAKER, produced by David Merrick (OLIVER, CARNIVAL, STOP THE WORLD-I WANT TO GET OFF ), with music and lyrics by Merrick’s “go to guy” Jerry Herman (MAME, PARADE). So, as long as we are (SFX: thud) dropping Tonys let’s continue:

The whole shebang was led by four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle, and as a matter of fact the entire creative team of the Broadway production continued their roles for the national tour of HELLO, DOLLY! including four-time Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto (Scenic & Costume Design), six-time Tony Award winner Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), Tony Award winner Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Tony Award winner Larry Hochman (Orchestrations), Tony Award winner Don Pippin (Vocal Arrangements), and folks who haven’t won a Tony, but give it time, including Andy Einhorn (Music Supervision), Ben Whiteley (Music Direction), and David Chase (Dance Arrangements).

The whole shebang was led by four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle.

The pit orchestra, by the way, conducted by Mr. Whitely, was first rate, with two touring keyboards, percussion, and first trumpet (what is it about drums and trumpet that just screams “Broadway!”) plus thirteen locally hired musicians playing strings, brass, and winds. Way to go, guys.

Oh, and one more thing. The score includes a “counterpoint” number, where there are two separate melodies sung together, in this case the song is called “Motherhood.” To me, it’s not really a musical unless I get to hear at least one of those types of songs.

But I digress (No Kidding – Ed.)

You’ll want to know “how was Carolee Carmello?” And the answer is “Great!” She’s a three-time Tony nominee who has sung at Lincoln Center, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall with a command of a variety of vocal styles and clear diction. (I’ve often been critical of the sound at Shea’s, depending on the touring company, but this was first-rate, with no issues at all, so you can take your mother and she’ll understand every word.)

The waiters at Harmonia Gardens dance in Hello, Dolly! National Tour Company – Photograph by Julieta Cervantes 2018

I was thinking back to my first theater experience in grammar school when a traveling troupe put on a version of PUSS IN BOOTS. I know they had costumes and props. Who knows if they even had scenery? I also got to act on the same stage later myself as a carrot in Mr. MacGregor’s garden in PETER RABBIT and got to see some of the technical stuff, the flys and lights and I’m sure what was one painted backdrop of a farm scene. Now, over 60 years later, I see a continuum with HELLO, DOLLY! as the incarnation of what we thought we were doing back then, and in high school, and beyond. My point is simply that no matter what your personal experience is with theater, even if it’s only been in the audience, you will watch this show and think “Yeah. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Yes, it’s a very retro musical, but it’s so damn well done.

Photography by Julieta Cervantes

UP NEXT: At the end of the block, at Shea’s 710 Theatre, All for One Productions is putting on THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME March 12-29.

Second Generation Theater is presenting Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning THREE TALL WOMEN across the lobby from Shea’s in the Smith Theatre March 20 – April 5.

The next Broadway series musical is THE BAND’S VISIT on the mainstage at Shea’s April 14 – 19.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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