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Don’t let this Parade Pass You By! “Hello, Dolly!” wows at the Aronoff!

 Review by Christiana Molldrem Harkulich of “Hello, Dolly!” Broadway in Cincinnati

“Pudding!” Just as Cornelius signals Barnaby with the word when he’s sure they are having an adventure, I am signaling you that I’ve been on a theatrical adventure this evening at the Aronoff Center for the revival of “Hello, Dolly”! Broadway Cincinnati presented this touring production of director Jerry Zaks’s energetic and refreshingly light revival, that plays through December 15th. This wonderful production has the audience spontaneously breaking out in applause throughout, and humming those great Broadway classics walking out of the theatre. 

The scene opens on 1885 New York City, and we’re introduced to the original striver of the gig economy, the woman of many cards and much meddling Dolly Gallagher Levi (a comedically wonderful and welcoming Carolee Carmello). The events of the musical take place over the course of a day, and on this day Dolly–the matchmaker–has decided to leave her widow’s status behind and re-marry half-millionaire from Yonkers Horace Vandergelder (equal parts curmudgeon and boyishly gleeful as portrayed by John Bolton), but Horace doesn’t know it yet. In fact, Dolly is off to meddle in the whole of Horace’s life–arranging the marriage of his niece and ward Ermengarde (Laura Sky Herman) to the artist Ambrose (Colin LeMoine) despite Horace’s disapproval, and setting up his clerks Cornelius (Daniel Beeman) and Barnaby (Sean Burns) with Irene Molloy (a winning Analisa Leaming) –who Horace begins the play thinking he’ll marry–and her assistant Minnie Fay (adorable Chelsea Cree Groen). As Dolly meddles her way into the middle of all events, she’s also looking for a sign from her late husband that this is the right direction and that she has his permission.  

Adapted from Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker,” “Hello, Dolly!” is a musical that is aging incredibly well–the music pops, and every number is a bigger showstopper than the one that came before. It’s consistently funny and empathetic. From Herman’s Ermengarde classic squeal reaction to the Beeman and Burn’s bright eyed optimism, this show sings its way right into your heart. When Dolly sings of the parade passing her by, the show stopping Act 1 Finale number, it begins with such a quiet grief that you realize this show is really about a middle-aged woman who has been keeping herself so busy she’s forgotten to live. And once she puts her mind to it, WOW does she live. We could all afford to be a little more like Dolly Levi.  While all of the leads are fantastic, I would be remiss to point out the real star of this show–the wonderfully light and athletic choreography of Warren Carlyle performed by the excellent ensemble. The dancing pays homage to the original Gower Champion aesthetic, but is fresh and fun. The ensemble, consisting of a group of actors from a wide range of body types that is wonderfully refreshing, makes the world of 1885 New York come alive with joy. From “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” through the titular number “Hello, Dolly!” you’ll find yourself drawn to applaud mid-number.

The designs are also breath-taking. Santo Loquasto’s costumes and set work together seamlessly and are gorgeous and mouth-dropping. The transition into the courtroom in the second act is astounding. Natasha Katz’s light design sets the warm mood for the play and period. If the dark days of the approaching winter solstice are getting you down, run- don’t walk- to the Aronoff to catch the lightness of spirit and pure joy coming from this production of “Hello, Dolly!” Tickets are available at https://www.cincinnatiarts.org/events/detail/hello-dolly.