Arts & Culture
4:33 pm
Thu July 1, 2010

Bill Gale reviews "Dolly!"

Matanuch, R.I. – Well, hello, "Dolly!" It's good to have you back where you belong, on the musical stage.

At Theatre-by-the-Sea in Matunuck "Hello, Dolly!" that wonderfully glitzy, ever so old-timey, ever so American, musical is receiving the splendid, loving, carefully accurate production it deserves.

The costumes are gorgeous, the dancing prideful, the performances super, as fine an ensemble as you're going to get in summer stock. Director Kevin P. Hill and star Cady Huffman and their colleagues at Matunuck have given us a "Dolly!" that is a dilly, much worth seeing if you love the old time musical in all its vibrant glitz, outright silliness, and heart-on-the-sleeve emotion.

With that said, let me add that "Hello, Dolly!" a Broadway smash in 1964 when it won 10 Tony Awards, is about as old-fashioned as a musical can get and still be put, tottering, at times, on stage. It's musical numbers - some of them wonderful, some of them forgettable, just seem to pop up out of nowhere. It's as if composer/lyricist Jerry Herman and book writer Michael Stewart just sat around and said, "Know what? We need a song here," and immediately produced one.

As for that book, well, it's laughable. Taken from "The Matchmaker" by Thornton Wilder, you'll remember it concerns Ms. Dolly Gallagher Levi and her efforts to find rich husbands for certain ladies, particularly one named Dolly.

Then, there are all kinds of fol-de-rol: The hicks meet New York City. A rich man acts like an idiot. The women are put upon but ever- resourceful, and so forth.

Still, at "Dolly!" you can pretty much overlook all that and just see American musical theater history on stage. When you're at "Dolly!" you are looking at perhaps the last of a breed. The show peers backwards for its inspiration. The plot turns are right out of the 1930s, the music simple and obvious. It's as if no one had any idea that the era of the "Sixties" was about to explode; that even conservative Broadway would soon be putting on shows such as "Hair" and, eventually, "Rent."

What "Dolly!" definitely needs to work today is nothing short of a first-rate Dolly Levi. At Matunuck, they've got one. Cady Huffman, a Tony winner herself as the babe in "The Producers," gives us a leading lady who is straight forward and right on. Huffman's Dolly is not puffed up with look-at-me-or-else bravado a la the great Carol Channing who created the role. Huffman clearly shows you Dolly's drive and toughness and then nicely cuts it with her vulnerability. Her singing is both attractive and precise in a terrific performance.

She's well matched by the rest of the cast, particularly a winsome Rebecca Barko as that second banana lady, Irene Molloy.

Director/choreographer Hill has put together a seamless production given the short rehearsal time of summer theater; his choreography is well danced, fun to watch.

So, sure, "Hello, Dolly!" is, to use that current clich , what it is. But if you can overlook -- or better yet, chuckle at -- the corny jokes, the out-of-date male-female relationships, you may get to the fact that this musical is also a loving remembrance of America past. At Matunuck, they know that. And they've presented us with a "Dolly!" that's perfect for the 4th of July.