As the story begins, the curmudgeonly and parsimonious old Vandergelder plans to marry Manhattan milliner Irene Molloy (the lovely Jenny Hickman, standing in for Analisa Leaming on Tuesday night), but Dolly has other plans. Vandergelder's big number, "It Takes a Woman," boasts, "It takes a woman all powdered and pink/to joyously clean out the drain in the sink." And it goes downhill from there. Alas, what may have been an acceptable trope in the 1960s sounds jarringly incorrect in today's world. I don't think I'm being too nit-picky to say that "Hello, Dolly!" may have to fine-tune, or scrape, this misogynistic ditty in future productions.
Dolly, for all her energy, has tired of her role as meddler extraordinaire with a business card for every occasion. She’s looking to find a companion “Before the Parade Passes By.” Though the story is cloaked in all manner of physical comedy and slapstick, it is essentially about finding an antidote to loneliness.
Carmello finds the poignance in Dolly, but what fun there is in the journey.
In one terrific sequence, Vandergelder’s hooky-playing employees Cornelius (Daniel Beeman) and Barnaby (Sean Burns) find themselves hiding in closets and under tables when the old grump pays a call at Irene’s hat shop. By Dolly’s design, Vandergelder leaves in a huff, taking his (unshelled) chocolate-covered peanuts with him, and the penniless Cornelius and Barnaby are left to squire Irene and her assistant Minnie (Chelsea Cree Groen) for the night. In a company of strong singers, actors and dancers, Beeman really shines.
And then there’s that grand finale at Harmonia Gardens. As a prelude to Dolly’s big entrance, the ensemble, posing as waiters, chefs and the maitre d’hotel, runs circles around the place with champagne buckets, knives, trays of food, etc. Indeed, “Hello, Dolly!” may be the only musical you’ll ever see in which a cook spearing a chicken is a precisely choreographed move.
But the real lulu is Dolly’s orgy of eating. She gnaws a turkey bone, drinks the gravy and inhales the potato puffs in a lunatic episode that brings back memories of Channing (whom I saw at the Fox in the mid-1990s).
Anyone looking for examples of the grand continuum of musical theater history has a couple of noteworthy bookends on Atlanta stages through Sunday. If the Alliance Theatre's technically sophisticated "Maybe Happy Ending" represents the future of the genre, "Hello, Dolly!" shines a light on the showboat-size spectacles of yesteryear. Forgive the cliche, but for better or ill, they just don't make 'em like "Dolly" anymore.
So welcome back, Dolly. (“Look at the old girl now, fellas.”) It’s really nice to have you back where you belong.
7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $31-$125. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org
Bottom line: All the wows