Hello, Dolly!

Mar 8 2018 | By More

★★★★☆ Frothy

King’s Theatre: Wed 7 – Sat 10 Mar 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Southern Light Opera’s production of Hello, Dolly! at the King’s combines showbiz pizzazz with real emotion to great effect.

The celebrated 1964 musical (songs by Jerry Herman, book by Michael Stewart) is based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, which itself can trace its ancestry back considerably further.

John Bruce and Matthew O’Hagan. Pic Ryan Buchanan

The story seems quite silly on the surface. Dolly Gallagher Levi, marriage broker and general meddler, is supposedly fixing up ‘semi-millionaire’ Horace Vandergelder, but has set her own cap at him, while simultaneously helping out various members of his family and staff. But hidden within are deep reserves of warmth and humanity, memorable tunes and some challenging roles.

Not the least of these is Dolly herself. Originally played by Carol Channing and most recently on Broadway by Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters, it is not the part for a shrinking violet. Elspeth Whyte can certainly belt it out with the best of them, but also displays considerable charm.

The character was originally designed to be ‘exasperating’, and can be bumptiously one-dimensional, but Whyte adds nuance to her huge stage presence, notably in the way Before The Parade Passes By builds from questioning self-regard to defiant positivity.

hugely ambitious

Of course, the requisite routine with Dolly and the cake-walking handsome waiters to the title song is very much in evidence, and is just one of the beautifully staged, hugely ambitious numbers that pepper the production. Louise Williamson’s choreography in these is hugely impressive. There are a couple of occasions where the impact of the weather truncating final rehearsals starts to peep through, but these are few and far between.

Elspeth Whyte and company. Pic Ryan Buchanan

If a criticism can be levelled at Andy Johnston’s expansive, big-hearted and very attractive direction, it is that the humour is a little too broad on occasion. In what is a fairly ludicrous set-up to begin with, you can have too much in the way of silly walks, funny foreign accents and not-quite-pratfalls. Luckily, it never goes too far.

The large chorus are in excellent voice, with the orchestra under the direction of Crawford Moyes providing sensitive and flexible backing.

What is most noticeable is how consistent the standard of performance is among the principals. Alan Hunter makes Mr Vandergelder genuinely three-dimensional, while John Bruce is endlessly sympathetic as his put-upon clerk Cornelius Hackl. Matthew O’Hagan, as Cornelius’s sidekick Barnaby, is a thoroughly impressive performer, combining fidgety energy with graceful promise.

huge and emotional

Tanya Williamson (Mr Vandergelder’s supposed love interest Mrs Molloy) has a huge and emotional voice, and her reading of Ribbons Down My Back is an object lesson in how to invest a lyric with just the right amount of meaning without overdoing it, and probably the highlight of the whole evening. Nicola Dryburgh has a snappy line in comedy as her assistant Minnie Fay.

Dolly and her waiters… Elspeth Whyte and company. Pic Ryan Buchanan

Robyn McCormack (Mr Vandergelder’s weepy niece Ermengarde) and Matt McDonagh (her would-be suitor Mr Kemper) make two potentially annoying characters seem utterly real. This is carried out through the rest of the cast. Many of the named roles only have one or two lines, and there are too many to namecheck them all, but all are discharged with aplomb.

What is most noticeable here – aside from the frighteningly high production values you would expect from Southern Light Opera, exemplified by the scenery and costumes – is how much fun this all is. The show itself is showing its age – some of the jokes fall flat, and it creaks noticeably in the second half – but there is such a sparkle to this production that it really does not matter.

Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Wednesday 7 to Saturday 10 March 2018
Evenings: 7.30pm, matinee Sat: 2.30pm .
Tickets and details: www.capitaltheatres.com/hellodolly.

Southern Light Opera website: www.southernlightopera.co.uk/
Facebook: @SouthernLightOpera.
Twitter: @SLO_Edinburgh.

The chorus of Hello Dolly take to to the streets of Yonkers. Pic Ryan Buchanan


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