Reviews: Hello, Dolly! at Curve, Leicester - December 2012 / January 2013
Photos: Catherine Ashmore
Thursday 6th December 2012
Hello, Dolly! at Leicester Curve is a musical so joyous you can scarcely bear to say goodbye to it.
Leicester hardly needs Christmas lights when it has Janie Dee on sparkling form at Curve. With a smile as wide and bright as Broadway and eyes that bring the dawn with them when they gaze upwards, Dee radiates goodwill to all men in a way that never seems stagy or forced.
She is simply sensational in the role of Mrs Dolly Gallagher Levi, the busybody, Jill-of-all-trades widow who stands, indomitable, at the heart of Jerry Herman’s 1964 succès fou, a musical so joyous you can scarcely bear to say goodbye to it.
If you’re searching for tightly plotted sophistication and finely wrought characterisation, look elsewhere. The story – adapted by Michael Stewart from Thornton Wilder’s play, The Matchmaker, itself derived from other sources – could be scribbled on the back of one of the seed-packets sold at the Yonkers emporium of Horace Vandergelder. He’s the tightwad, chauvinist half-millionaire that Dolly has inexplicably set her sights on.
Charting their circuitous courtship amid the razzle-dazzle of turn-of-the-century New York – along with the adventures of Horace’s impecunious assistants, Cornelius and Barnaby, who sneak off there, too – the evening is really an excuse to hymn the value of seizing the day and to hoist a wholesome advertising hoarding on behalf of the Big Apple and all its energising ways.
Director Paul Kerryson and choreographer David Needham go to town with a fleet-footed, fluid succession of scenes that rely on the spectacle of a drilled company of 19, some neat back-projections and a gorgeous array of costumes to impress the audience rather than any fancy set-design. The jazzy title-number, made famous by Louis Armstrong, is as terrific as you’d hope for, with eight whirling waiters, nimble as mountain goats, dancing attendance on Dee, who purrs with dreamy satisfaction in a maroon bustle dress, ostrich feather in her hair.
But there are a surprising number of other tunes with the tingle-factor too – best of all Before the Parade Passes By, which seems to summon all of New York in its brassy march against solitary melancholy. Dale Rapley as Horace and Laura Pitt-Pulford as the eligible milliner Mrs Molloy are among those vying for admiration but it’s the golden-voiced Dee, more than holding her own against the impish memory of Barbra Streisand in the 1969 movie, who has you murmuring after her as she sings “Wow, wow, wow”. Dolly and Dee – a match made in musical heaven.
The Sunday Times
& Critics' Choice
Sunday 9th December 2012
Janie Dee has had quite a year. She began at the Old Vic in Noises Off, created a lethal new role at The Royal Court in Lucy Kitkwood's NSFW and now ends with echt Broadway in Jerry Herman's hokey, brassy 1964 musical.
The role of the matchmaking Dolly Levi usually calls for a broader broad that the effortlessly classy Dee, but she gives the professional meddler her own caramel-toned mischief, a seductive yenta setting her traps. Dolly's target is Horace, an ornery "well-known half-millionaire"; meanwhile, Horace's clerks skip hick town to go on the razzle in New York.
Hello, Dolly! rides a tide of undimmed good cheer (dancing waiters, sportive widows) in this production by Paul Kerryson and the designer Sara Perks; in support, Laura Pitt-Pulford unspools a luscious voice as a milliner with yearnings. The farce coudl be snappier, the dancing tappier - but it's a pleasurable show.
By Susannah Clapp
Sunday 9th December 2012
The matchmaker star of Hello, Dolly! is the most unusual of musical roles: a not-youthful comic heroine who is used to arranging everything – "furniture and daffodils and lives" – and who carries business cards advertising her ability to replug pierced ears. On stage Ethel Merman squared up to it; on screen Barbra Streisand sashayed through it. In Regent's Park Samantha Spiro flew and cackled like a tiny cockatoo.
Janie Dee, well, she can't help herself: she charms. Yet she does so with nutcracker sassiness. While her face dimples away so that even her teeth seem to wink, she has grit in her voice – if not gravel, certainly shingle; her shimmying and cleavaging (especially when offering more dumplings) is flagrantly seductive. You really see the room swaying as the cast bend and melt around her: she's like a welcome breeze.
Paul Kerryson's production, the big show in a terrifically varied line-up at the Curve, lives up to Dee. It is buoyantly orchestrated, strong-voiced and wonderfully fluid, swept along by David Needham's finely choreographed dances. Before the Parade Passes By comes up new minted. The tray-dancing waiters are nimble with their splits and leaps, though their restaurant looks understaffed. Laura Pitt-Pulford as the hat-hating milliner beguiles. Sara Perks populates the stage with gorgeous, wasp-waisted, mutton-sleeved costumes. The crimson and scarlet, velvet and satin flounces in which Dee appears for the title number makes her look like a live coal in a fire: the whole of the stage becomes flushed with red light.
The Sunday Express
At Leicester’s Curve, there’s a reminder of how musicals used to deliver more endearing and enduring pleasures with a revival of the 1964 classic Hello, Dolly! This great big hug of a show warms up the energy-draining vacuum of the venue and although the set doesn’t quite fill the huge stage a terrific cast fills up the gaps with generously winning performances. Janie Dee, one of British theatre’s life-affirming miracles, plays the marriage broker, professional meddler and fixer that, as the title song has it, is glowing, crowing and going strong.
“Hello, Dolly, well Hello Dolly, It’s so nice to have you back where you belong,” goes the lyric to the title song of Jerry Herman’s 1964 musical, and it is indeed always so nice to have this infinitely treasurable show back among us. Even if Paul Kerryson’s production, clearly working within budgetary constraints, doesn’t fully belong in the wide open, vacant spaces of Leicester’s Curve, the cast valiantly fills up some of the gaps and Dolly herself is still glowing, crowing and going strong in Janie Dee’s fully inhabited performance of the title role.
Hers is a lovable bear hug of a performance that channels the gravelly voice of the original stage Dolly’s Carol Channing, but, instead of offering a caricature of the role, she is both playful and knowing yet also utterly sincere. Is there a more amazingly eclectic actress working in the British theatre now than Dee? The very week before she began performances here, she was wrapping a run in a new play at London’s Royal Court - the last 18 months have also seen her in Shakespeare at London’s Globe and rushing up and downstairs in farce at the Old Vic.
As marriage broker, professional meddler and fixer, Dolly is an all-purpose life force - and so is the actress playing her. The role, originally announced for Caroline O’Connor in this revival (who withdrew when a Broadway role beckoned), has met its perfect modern match and she reinvents it totally, entering via the auditorium and breaking the fourth wall with asides to the audience.
Kerryson allows other actors to regularly spill into the auditorium, which also helps close the space between stage and audience. It’s a useful distraction from the ugly set design of Sara Perks, which pitches a sweeping staircase centre stage that may shift angles but always dominates below a perfunctory scene-setting slide screen, while Ben Atkinson’s brassy band is visible upstage behind the action.
There are also terrific supporting performances from the ever-dashing Michael Xavier, daring to project a perky nerdiness as shop clerk Cornelius Hackl and the ever-radiant Laura Pitt-Pulford as the milliner he falls in love with on a once in a lifetime trip to New York. Dale Rapley brings the perfect strutting, stocky pomposity to Horace Vandergelder, whose Scrooge-like personality undergoes the show’s biggest transformation. The dancing, prancing waiters are regulation issue, but contribute to the infectious delights of this Christmas treat.