A review of HELLO DOLLY! from Ashlea Palladino of The Column by John Garcia

We are so very proud of our cast and crew of HELLO DOLLY! We are also honored to be held to a high standard. This critic, Ashlea Palladino of The Column by John Garcia, rates our production of HELLO DOLLY! as “very good” and then mixes in some constructive criticisms as well as praise. We hope you’ll come to see the show and form your own opinion as well. HELLO DOLLY! plays thru June 18th and seats are still available for most nights. Thanks to Ashlea and The Column by John Garcia for the compliments as well as the constructive comments. Excellence is always our goal.

HELLO, DOLLY!_______________________

Reviewed by Ashlea Palladino, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

You know how sometimes your mind can get set on something and then you can think of nothing else until you’ve sated that particular need?  For example, I often crave cheese fries.  And not just cheese fries, but SNUFFER’S cheese fries.  A cheese fry anywhere else is simply not as…well…magical.  The basic ingredients are the same at other eateries, but Snuffer’s manages that extra shot of je ne sais quoi that catapults their basket full of cheesy, bacon-y deliciousness to another level.  While this is definitely not a restaurant review, I like to think of Plaza Theatre Company as the Snuffer’s of community theater.  There’s just something special happening out in Cleburne and I want to be a part of it as often as I can afford to trek out west.

That said, I was so looking forward to this energetic company’s take on the matchmaking classic, Hello, Dolly!  The show fit perfectly between Plaza’s pillars of fun-loving and family-friendly, and based on previous experience with this theater I expected nothing less than complete sensory bliss.  Unfortunately, instead of Snuffer’s cheese fries I got Snookie’s cheese fries – pretty dad-gummed good but not exactly what I had my heart set on.

Set Designer JaceSon Barrus took advantage of all possible wall and floor space in this homey theater-in-the-round to create the feeling of a neighborhood parade – all with paint.  Charles J. Conti was credited with the wall mural paintings, and while they were lovely, I didn’t quite understand how the burnished Greek columns fit into the story.  The floor painting, however, in shades of red, blue and yellow was creatively conceptualized and beautifully rendered.  My eye went back to the centerpiece floor time and time again.

Kara Barnes’s costume design was another highlight of the production.  The fabric stores in Cleburne must be plum out of satin, tulle, and feathers as all of the ladies’ costumes and headpieces were eye-popping colorful and appropriate to the period.  Mrs. Dolly Levi herself wore at least three very different ensembles complete with bustles, each one lively and original (especially Dolly’s red getup).  The uniforms worn by the service team at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant were also of particular note.

The track music was bright and nicely cued but there was quite a bit of feedback on some of the actors’ microphones.  Hopefully Dolly’s and Cornelius’s microphones can be adjusted a bit for future performances, as the feedback seemed to happen when these actors sang in their higher registers, and also when they held notes with heavy vibrato.  The feedback issue was not constant and it didn’t happen with every actor.

With a gazillion Column Awards under their belt, not to mention numerous accolades and honors given by other organizations, the theater community’s expectation of Plaza shows is undeniably high.  With 901 season ticket holders this production team does not want to disappoint, right?  The only problem with setting a bar so high is keeping that bar high.  And while most (if not all) of the performances in this show were high-caliber, overall it felt like watching an early dress rehearsal during tech week (i.e. several dropped lines and out-of-sync choreography) rather than a show in its second weekend of a month’s run.  My slight disappointment might have stemmed from the height of the aforementioned bar as well as the double-casting of several principal roles – perhaps the actors worked more cohesively with members of the alternate cast.  That said, let’s move on to individual performances.

As the titular Dolly Levi, Kristin Spires (who also served as Music Director) did an admirable job with such an iconic role.  There was no Carol Channing and no Barbra Streisand present in Ms. Spires’s portrayal of the widowed Yenta, but she was funny in her own, more reserved way.  Ms. Spires had a beautiful voice and an enviable range, and I wished the microphone issue hadn’t interrupted the pleasure of hearing her sing.

Jay Lewis played Horace Vandergelder and was one of only two principals not double-cast.  Mr. Lewis was physically suited to the part though I expected slightly more frustration and curmudgeonly behavior from his character.  Jonathan Metting played Vandergelder’s beleaguered shop clerk, Cornelius Hackl, and his performance was one of the most energetic amongst the cast.  Sometimes that energy was a little over the top for me but Mr. Metting was, at minimum, very committed to his role.  Daron Cockerell, as Irene Molloy, shared the production’s best couple chemistry with Mr. Metting.  Their ages appeared similar, and their connection was believable.  Like Ms. Spires, Ms. Cockerell had an incredible voice, and thankfully, the microphone issue didn’t affect her performance.

The two standouts in this show were the couple Minnie Fay (Tabitha Barrus) and Barnaby Tucker (Michael Sylvester).  Miss Barrus was a bolt of sunshine whenever she was on stage and her lines were delivered with cheeky optimism and a brilliant smile.  Mr. Sylvester was responsible for the production’s best dance sequences and his physical comedy was right on point.  When partnered for a particular dance or scene Miss Barrus and Mr. Sylvester were a dream.  I noted that Miss Barrus is choreographing the company’s next show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – I’ll drive to Cleburne to see that.

Hello, Dolly! was not Plaza’s greatest theatrical offering to date, but it was enjoyable and it was fun for the whole family.  Hopefully with Joseph, Plaza Theatre Company can raise the bar again.

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