Theatre review: Hello, Dolly! gets most of its strength in the music

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Capilano University’s Exit 22 Theatre closes out its season with its graduating class production of Hello, Dolly!, an energetic and family-friendly show that finds its greatest strength in the music.

Caleb Di Pomponio and Michelle Bardach in the Exit 22 production of Hello, Dolly!A long way to stage and screen, Hello, Dolly! is based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker which was revised and re-titled from his original 1938 play The Merchant of Yonkers.  The 1964 penned award-winning musical has since become one of the most enduring Broadway musicals featuring iconic performances by Carol Channing on Broadway and Barbra Streisand in the 1969 film version.

Telling the story of widowed matchmaker Dolly Levi who, while arranging marriages (and everything else under the sun) for the citizens of Yonkers, has hatched a plan of her own to land a husband for herself: the single, wealthy and rather unlikeable Horace Vandergelder.

As Dolly, final year student Steffanie Davis wisely steers clear of any impressions and while she has a nice singing voice I couldn’t help but think her voice was cracking under the pressure of the role as she struggled in her higher range and wasn’t always able to sustain her notes.  In a show that was more musical than theatre, Davis did bring realism to her Dolly that was missing in some of the other performances.   As the hard-ass and half-millionaire Vandergelder, Paul Almeda left little room to show a more vulnerable and soft side leading up to his inevitable union with Dolly.

Michelle Bardach, another of the final year students, brings the best performances of the evening as the milliner who ultimately finds happiness when she realizes money isn’t everything.  Bardach’s voice is superb, giving a heartfelt “Ribbons Down My Back” and is the glue for the quartet in the delightful act two opener “Elegance”.

As the hapless store clerks who venture into the big city, Caleb Di Pomponio and Alex Nicoll bring some great physicality to the roles of Barnaby and Cornelius.  An inspired piece of casting by director Gillian Barber, this goofy duo benefits from both their physical contrasts and singing voices.

This is a huge production with an ensemble that would make any professional theatre company weep with envy.  And while they have energy to spare, the brashness of some of the larger numbers was lost in a sound so thin that even with their sheer numbers I strained to hear them at times.  Sound wasn’t just a problem in the big production numbers though as those pesky sound gremlins that seem to plague amateur groups were at work again throughout the night.

Choreographer Keri Minty keeps this large cast moving well in most of the bigger production numbers.  Drew Facey brings the obligatory grand staircase framed by an almost art-deco feel backdrop made up of a multitude of rings as if symbolizing Dolly’s primary vocation as a matchmaker.

While an entertaining evening of a classic, with its strength in the musical part of the musical theatre genre, this production of Hello, Dolly! could have benefited from more work on the story when the cast wasn’t singing.

3 Out of 5 Stars Hello, Dolly!

Book by Michael Stewart.  Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman.  Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder.  Directed by Gillian Barber.  An Exit 22 Theatre production.  On stage at the North Shore Credit Union Centre for the Performing Arts through April 7, 2012.  Visit for tickets and information.

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