Hello, Dolly!, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s fifth production as the JoRo’s in-house fundraising troupe since 2017 is their “most ambitious yet” and first to be directed by company regular Kathryn Lay.
She brings experience of directing for several Gilbert & Sullivan companies to the task, along with a familiar right-hand man for this bright and breezy production, husband Martin Lay, a figure in constant motion in white tie and tails as conductor and musical director in the dozen-strong orchestra pit.
Hello, Dolly!, with its book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, had its day as the longest-running show on Broadway after its 1964 debut, further buoyed by Gene Kelly’s 1969 film starring the irrepressible Barbra Streisand.
Based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant Of Yonkers, re-written as The Matchmaker in 1954, it is a lightweight, gently amusing piece, not dissimilar in spirit to those works from the other side of the Big Pond, G&S’s light operas. Or, you could call it “an absolute hoot”, as the JoRo’s publicity puts it.
The setting is 1885 New York, where wily widow and meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi (Helen Spencer) has her eye on hooking tight-fisted half-a-millionaire Horace Vendergelder (Alex Schofield), a man short on joy and even shorter on humour.
Ever chirpy Dolly has calling cards for all manner of skills she claims to have, but resourcefulness is her primary asset, along with an ability to confuse all around her in pursuit of her goal. Spencer triumphs, both in song, especially her ballads, and as leading lady with an artful yet appealing air and bags of brio. Vandergelder is a stick in the mud, all the more so for Schofield playing him so straight.
The path to love may not run smoothly, but Hello, Dolly! is giddy with a supporting bill of billing and cooing involving Stuart Sellens’s Cornelius Hackl and Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Irene Molloy, alongside Jamie Benson’s Barnaby Tucker and Jennifer Jones’s Minnie Fay. They make a swell foursome, amusing, smartly attired and characterful in their singing.
“Flouncing around in a feather boa”, Sophie Cooke is a good sport as Ernestina, the butt of Dolly’s meddling with a voice to launch a thousand cough lozenges. Abigail Atkinson and Jonathan Wells make their mark too as artist Ambrose Kemper and young Ermengarde.
Supporting roles and ensemble players add to the jollification, particularly in the big numbers, whether beneath twirling brollies or on waiter duty in Lorna Newby’s lively choreography.
Tickets are in limited supply for tonight’s show and tomorrow’s matinee with better availability for tomorrow night’s finale. All proceeds go back to the JoRo in support of York’s community theatre and the chance to put on more big musicals with big casts to match.
Review by Charles Hutchinson