Debuting to 10 Tony Awards 50 years ago, Hello, Dolly! is a rarity among musicals: song and dance blend seamlessly with story, its buoyant innocence saving it from contrivance. Based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, it’s a perfect vehicle for 2nd Star Productions, long recognized for outstanding musicals. The combination of strength in show and talent makes this the best amateur musical production I have seen in 13 years of reviewing.
Dolly Levi (Nori Morton), as charming as she is perceptive and manipulative, is a marriage broker who, after a long widowhood, has set her own matrimonial sights on Horace Vandergelder (Gene Valendo), the half-millionaire from Yonkers who also happens to be her client. Horace is set to marry Irene Molloy (Pam Schilling), a lovely widow and milliner from the city. But his quest does not end as he — or six younger romantics — anticipated, as Dolly lets drop some slanderous rumors about Irene’s character.
Horace’s two clerks at Vandergelder’s Feed Store — Cornelius (Nathan Bowen) and Barnaby (Daniel Starnes) — close the store without Horace’s knowledge to follow him, intent on sightseeing and kissing a girl — all on two dollars. Horace’s niece Ermengarde (Emily Freeman), meanwhile, steals off to the city at Dolly’s urging with her forbidden love Ambrose (Josh Hampton). Dolly enters the pair in a polka contest at the swanky Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where Horace will dine.
In the city, Cornelius and Barnaby spot their boss and take refuge in Irene’s hat shop, where Horace discovers them and abandons Irene. She and her assistant Minnie (Colleen Coleman) then fall for Cornelius and Barnaby. Dolly next sets up Horace with a mannequin, then with Ernestina (Rebecca Feibel), a crass floozy, interrupting their miserable tête à tête so that he will fall for her in desperation. Horace’s employees, meanwhile, are trying to entertain the milliners on a pittance in an adjacent booth when an accidental wallet swap saves their day but causes Horace to be arrested for not paying his bill. The polka contest turns into a riot. Everyone is hauled to court, but Cornelius saves the day with a speech on the power of love that moves the Judge (Mark Jeweler) to free everyone but Horace. Dolly, of course, is there to save his day.
There is not a clinker in this cast. The leads, all well cast, know how to sell their songs. With hummable hits like Put on Your Sunday Clothes, It Takes a Woman and It Only Takes a Moment, the singing is pitch-perfect and the dancing precise. Morton is every inch the marvelous meddler; Valendo delivers just the right blend of tightwad anxiety; Bowen charms with naïve sincerity and energy to burn; Starnes is an impressive presence as the teen playing a teen; Schilling sings like a lark in Ribbons Down My Back and Coleman is her perfect ingénue foil. Tim Sayles is hilarious as Rudolph, the maître d’ who barks orders like a German drill sergeant in the Waiters’ Galop, a stunning ballet of tuxedoed servers. Feibel wrangles the laughs with her bumptious shenanigans. There are even children — two talented girls — always a welcome sight in community theater choruses.
Sets and costumes are a feast for the eyes with half a dozen ornate set changes and two dozen beautiful ensembles complete with parasols, plumes, boaters and bonnets. The robust nine-piece orchestra sometimes overpowers the soloists, but never a word is lost.
Money is like manure. It isn’t worth anything unless you spread it around, Dolly is fond of saying. The same is true for talent. It would be a shame for even one seat to go empty during this run. So buy your tickets now, Before the Parade Passes By.
Hello, Dolly! by Stewart and Herman. Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann. Musical director: Joe Biddle. choreography: Vincent Musgrave. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde. With Heather Jeweler as Mrs. Rose and Brianne Anderson, Aaron Barker, Rosalie Daelemans, Austin Dare, Genevieve Ethridge, Samantha Gardner, Ethan Goldberg, Ann Marie Hines, Julie Hines, Amy Jones, Crista Kirkendall, Brigid Lally, Erin Lorenz, Rebekka Meyer, Spencer Nelson, Malarie Novotny, Sharon Palmer, Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, CeCe Shilling, Jordan Sledd, Deb Sola and Sarah Wessinger.
Playing thru June 29. F & Sa at 8 pm; Su at 3pm at 2nd Star Productions: Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $22 w/discounts; rsvp 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.