When it had its opening run on Broadway in 1964 (winning ten Tony Awards, including best musical), “Hello, Dolly!” was most praised for the star turn by Carol Channing, who made it the signature role of her career. Five years later, the also heralded film version became a vehicle for Barbra Streisand, who helped make the movie one of the most admired film musicals of all time. And so, when Sacramento’s Music Circus produced the musical in performances at the Wells Fargo Pavilion last week, the expectation was that the actress playing Dolly would steal the show. And while Lynne Wintersteller was fine in the title role, her performance was far from the highlight of what was an excellent production. Instead, the musical was brought to life by the entire ensemble, with Dolly’s role seemingly diminished in importance as a result.
Instead, the story (based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” with book my Michael Stewart, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman) unfolded into a series of “matches,” with Dolly’s no more compelling than those of her clients. In particular, the plotline concerning Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker (the two store clerks who close up shop for one night to hit the big city for a wild fling that they promise each other will include kissing a girl) became a far more significant part of the story. And it certainly helped that the two actors playing those roles (John Scherer as Hackl and Jordan Grubb as Tucker) were spot-on perfect in their portrayals, a delightful mix of innocence and derring-do that ends them up in court facing charges of “public disturbance.”
Also bringing welcome energy and exuberance to their roles were Jacquelyn Piro Donovan and Sarah Marie Jenkins as the boys’ “love interests.” Ms. Donovan, in particular, added her fine vocal skills to her role as Irene Molloy, the hat shop owner looking to move to a more “reputable” profession. Her solo in the first act (“Ribbons Down My Back”) was one of the better-realized songs in the production, which was ably directed by Glenn Casale. (Craig Barna provided the musical direction and conducted a fine 14-piece orchestra that played a full overture – something of a Music Circus rarity – to start the evening, and the marvelous period costumes were credited to Marcy Froehlich.)
Stuart Marland also merits mention for a nice turn as Horace Vandergelder, Dolly’s principal client and the owner of the feed and grain shop where Cornelius and Barnaby are as much indentured servants as employees. He played the grump very effectively and also showed a good singing voice when his role provided him the opportunity. And John Williford handled the role of the maître d’ at the swank restaurant where everyone ends up nicely. (B St. Theater stalwart David Pierini added a clever cameo performance as the judge in the second act.)
Acting plaudits aside, this “Dolly” was a song and dance bonanza (choreography by Randy Slovacek), with musical highlights galore. Among them were the opening “Call on Dolly” (Ms. Wintersteller and the ensemble), “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” (Mr. Scherer, Mr. Grubb, Ms. Wintersteller and ensemble), “Dancing” (Mr. Scherer, Mr. Grubb, Ms. Wintersteller, and Ms. Donovan), “Before the Parade Passes By” (Ms. Wintersteller and Mr. Marland), the title song (Ms. Wintersteller, Mr. Williford and the male ensemble), and “It Only Takes a Moment” (Mr. Scherer and Ms. Donovan).
In the end — spoiler alert! — Dolly gets her man, which we kind of knew from the start. What we didn’t know was that so much that didn’t really concern her would elevate the telling of her story.