Jerry Herman’s music and lyrics for Hello Dolly! are iconic, as are some of the great leading ladies who have stepped into the lead character’s shoes including Carol Channing and on film, Barbra Streisand.
Anyone who plays the fast talking match-maker should give their own interpretation, rather than impersonate these great actresses. Unfortunately, Anita Dobson’s Dolly is Streisand-lite as she overacts, over egging the pudding, yet when it comes to the big show-stopping numbers, her vocals underwhelm. So much so that during Before The Parade Passes By, Dobson is way out of tune. This talented actress gives it all she has got but, her best is not good enough for a big role like Dolly Levi.
Anthony Wright’s costumes are stunning and really capture the vaudeville style of the show perfectly. As do the excellent ensemble; rarely putting a foot wrong. But even they cannot stop this overlong musical from outstaying its welcome. One scene sees them dancing with kebabs in their hands which is unintentionally hilarious.
Darren Day is much better than many critics give him credit for as Cornelius Hackl, as at times his comic timing is spot on. But he struggles during some of the big dance numbers, looking out of breath and distant when he is not centre stage. Louise English and David McAlister as Irene Molly and Horace Vandergelder give their usual upbeat performances as they have done previously in Moreno’s lacklustre tour of Annie. But they are let down by director Chris Colby’s sluggish pacing.
Alan Miller Bunford’s cardboard looking set design does not help as it wobbles, resembling an oversized doll’s house. The train which Dolly & Co board is brilliantly realised but the backdrop is too flimsy.
When your songs are too big for your leading lady, the audience need something to distract them. But here, we are fed crumbs of comedy from Amanda Salmon’s shrieking Minnie Fay to Dobson’s Barbra schtick. The end result feels distinctly second-hand and embarrassing.
Hello Dolly! needs a fresh approach to stop it becoming staid and archaic. But Chris Moreno’s production merely goes through the motions with only the title song doing justice to Herman’s foot-tappingly terrific numbers. It’s a real shame as the audience, on the night I attended, were clearly anticipating something special before curtain up. But their stilted applause proved that they may have been better off watching Babs in the film version.