On Stage: A Fresh New ‘Dolly’

REVIEW: Signature/Ford Theater partner in inspired production of classic ‘Hello, Dolly!’

and star in “Hello, Dolly!” now playing at Ford’s Theatre (Courtesy photo)

Signature/Ford Theatre’s exuberant production of “Hello, Dolly!” now playing at Ford’s Theatre is an inspired reinvention of one of the most familiar Broadway musicals.

masterfully directs this classic musical from the 1960s, again proving that in understanding the Broadway musical he is in a class all his own. In short, his reinvigorated “Hello, Dolly!” is terrific. From the second and third showstopper songs — “It Takes a Woman” and “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” — it is evident that this is going to be a theatrical evening to remember.

Even though “Hello, Dolly!” is filled with the haunting music and lyrics of Jerry Herman, it labors under the enduring shadow of Carol Channing’s broad, comedic interpretation and has been defined by her ownership of the role of Dolly Levi, the clever matchmaker who has been hired to find a suitable wife for Horace Vandergelder, the grumpy half-a-millionaire from Yonkers.

“Hello, Dolly!” is one from the golden age of Broadway musicals that is frequently revived and saccharinely performed in scores of amateur productions. It is a great musical that won 10 Tony Awards when it opened in 1964 and has starred Mary Martin and Pearl Bailey on stage and Barbara Streisand in the movie. There was also a Carol Channing revival. And the song “Hello, Dolly!” took on an ageless familiarity in Louis Armstrong’s interpretation.

Nancy Opel portrays this “Dolly” as an impish manipulator who plots her reverse strategy to win Vandergelder’s hand in marriage for herself. Vandergelder, portrayed by Helen Hayes Award-winning actor Edward Gero, is an inspired casting choice as the hapless but ultimately loveable curmudgeon. He brings down the house when he sings, “It Takes a Woman.” Who knew this veteran actor who has appeared in more than 70 productions for the Shakespeare Theater could belt out a song like a musical comedy star?

’s exuberant choreography highlights the fact that she has the good fortune to be working with six professional dancers — four men and two women — who are energetic and athletic. Camp has often been forced in the past to teach non-dancers how to move on Washington stages.

This production works at all levels, and Schaeffer once again proves that he has few peers in his understanding of musical theater and an inventiveness that makes this “Dolly” as fresh and as exciting as it was when it opened on Broadway almost 50 years ago.

‘Hello, Dolly!’ continues at Ford’s Theatre through May 18. Tickets here.

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