‘Hello, Dolly!’ at 2nd Star Productions

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Call on 2nd Star Productions! They’re the one this reviewer recommends for its fine production of Hello, Dolly! The timeless musical about the meddlesome widow who puts love in its place is alive and well and back on the boards of the Bowie Playhouse this season. Directed by Jane B. Wingard with Musical Direction by Joe Biddle, the story of Dolly Levi is brings all the resplendence of 1890’s New York to theatergoers of the community for the month of June. With book by Michael Stewart and Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, this is one rather impressive production that you won’t want to let pass you by.

(L to R) Gene Valendo (Horace Vandergelder), Pam Shilling (Mrs. Irene Molloy), and Nori Morton (Dolly Levi).  Photos Courtesy of 2nd Star Productions and Debe Tighe.
(L to R) Gene Valendo (Horace Vandergelder), Pam Shilling (Mrs. Irene Molloy), and Nori Morton (Dolly Levi). Photo Courtesy of 2nd Star Productions and Debe Tighe.

Costume Designer Linda Swann finds the authenticity of the 1890s in her design work, particularly when it comes to outfitting the women of the ensemble. Her overall approach to the ladies dresses, of the high-waist variety is demure yet elegant. Swann finds a particularly garish, albeit effective, plaid and pink number for Miss Ernestina Money, making her look every bit the trollop Dolly promises she isn’t. As for the title character, Swann pulls out all the stops giving her a full four outfits that really speak to the character’s over-the-top personality. The Harmonia Gardens evening dress, while splendid in all its finery would be eveningwear perfection if the top layer of stringy fringe didn’t hide the delicate cinched waistline that otherwise perfectly accentuates the actress’ figure. Swann creates a genuine fashion sense for the time period, which is a brilliant match to the scenery used throughout the production.

Serving as the show’s Set Designer, Director Jane B. Wingard paints an illustrious series of backdrops to create the look of Yonkers and New York City proper. The finest works of Wingard’s designs are the lace-covered hat shop of Mrs. Irene Molloy complete with crown molding and tacky blue wallpaper, and the lavish private booths at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant. Wingard’s attention to detail in her scenic backdrop paintings is impressive; the texturing of chalkboard even shows through for the signs in the Vandergelder Hay and Feed Store.

Choreographer Vincent Musgrave incorporates some impressive routines for the size of the ensemble while still giving nods to the classic numbers expected with the production. Musgrave’s work on the whole could stand to be cleaner. The chaos occurring during the “Waiters’ Gallop” at Harmonia Gardens though funny, ends up looking sloppy. Musgrave does, however, create a very clever maneuver for the “train” bit during “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and keeps the marching lines for “Before the Parade Passes By” crisp and sharp.

Musical Director Joe Biddle brings the refreshing sound of a live orchestra to the performance. Keeping on top of these iconic songs is no easy task but Biddle keeps the live music sounding wonderful throughout the performance. Despite the size of the ensemble, the overall sound during company numbers is a bit softer than expected from so many people. The soloists, however, always manage to carry their sounds above the orchestra, creating for solid performances from the principle characters.

Exceptional cameo character performances include those given by Rebecca Feibel (Ernestina Money), Emily Freeman (Ermengarde), and Tim Sayles (Rudolph). Feibel plays up the wildly fiendish shenanigans of the hoochie-coochie character with a vibrant zest while Freeman delivers an ear-splitting intolerably obnoxious wail every time her character appears on the stage. Sayles, in his best performance on stage to date, delivers his limited lines with an absurdly over-articulated German accent and even more ridiculously rigid gestures. The trio of supporting players makes their presences well known and becomes brilliantly humorous moments worthy of note in this production.

Taking on the title role of the show, Nori Morton takes a unique, albeit lengthy, route to discovering the nuances of Dolly Levi. Attempting to channel both Carol Channing and Barbara Streisand, (on Broadway and on film) Morton pays tribute to the greats who established the role. Morton blends the throaty, raspy style in which Channing performed the character with the clearer chipper sounds that Streisand brought to the role, and at times these notes of homage come out simultaneously making for a muddled approach to Dolly. While Morton’s voice isn’t the strongest of singing she does hold her own for the belt at the end of “Before the Parade Passes By” and for the most part brings a quirky acting presence to the character. By the time she performs the character’s big solo “So Long, Dearie,” Morton has found the confidence that the character of Dolly requires and goes out with a bang.

Giving a rousing performance as a supporting female lead is Pam Shilling in the role of Irene Molloy. With a genuine radiance beaming from her character’s core, Shilling makes Irene Molloy a loveable, approachable, and entertaining character whose story becomes fascinating especially once the second act gets underway. With a delicately dulcet voice for “Ribbons Down My Back” she easily wins the hearts of the audiences over. Shilling has a natural and amiable chemistry that blossoms early one with Cornelius Hackl (Nathan Bowen) and when the pair of them share the “It Only Takes a Moment” duet, there is a beautifully sublime sound to their harmony.

Bowen primes the stage as a show stealer. With an accent as green as the country feed store he comes from, Bowen captures the hearts of the audience with his ‘country bumpkin’ routine. But it’s the faces that he pulls throughout the performance that make you take note. His priceless reactions to unfortunate situations are delivered with impeccable comic timing. Playing exceptionally well off Daniel Starnes, who plays the youthfully exuberant Barnaby Tucker, Bowen finds a comic rhythm that carries these two store clerks on an awfully great adventure through the great city of New York. Blending brilliant harmonies for the opening of “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” and “Elegance” with Starnes, Bowen’s robust voice carries throughout the production and is easily identifiable in larger ensemble numbers.

 Nathan Bowen (Cornelius Hackl) and Daniel Starnes (Barnaby Tucker). Photos Courtesy of 2nd Star Productions and Debe Tighe.
Nathan Bowen (Cornelius Hackl) and Daniel Starnes (Barnaby Tucker). Photos Courtesy of 2nd Star Productions and Debe Tighe.

It’s Gene Valendo (Mr. Horace Vandergelder) that really sets of sparks in this production. Earning the penultimate bow at curtain call, Valendo gives the usually dour character an extra kick in the pants are far as pizzazz and panache are concerned. With a rich voice to lead “It Takes a Woman” Valendo carries the song and leads the male ensemble into a rousing good time with this number. It’s his curmudgeonly responses to all things female that make his character quite the hoot, particularly when he re-enters the hat shop to steal back his chocolate covered peanuts.

Be sure and get your tickets to 2nd Star Productions’ joyful production of Hello, Dolly!

Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

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Hello, Dolly! plays through June 29, 2014 at 2nd Star Productions at The Bowie Playhouse— White Marsh Park Drive in Bowie, MD. For tickets please call the box office at (410) 415-3513 or purchase them online.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.