...And the Best Musical Revival of the new season was delivered by teenagers who belong to the Rosetta LeNoire Musical Theatre Academy. They began with Saturday classes every October, started rehearsing Hello, Dolly! in January, and performed it last week. If LeNoire were still alive and had been able to see Christopher Scott’s excellent production, she would have started singing the title song of the musical she did the same year that Dolly opened: “I Had a Ball.”
As Vandergelder, Henry Houghton saved his first smile for when he heard that Ernestina’s last name was Money. Both he and Scott knew that if he made his Vandergelder utterly devoid of humor, he’d be that much funnier. When he finally saw Ernestina, the aghast look on his face was commensurate with the ones many have had when introduced to their blind dates.
Sierra Nelson was the object of Vandergelder’s non-affection. We always hear how there are no eccentric performers any longer. Well, here’s one. Nelson’s ditsy demeanor was enhanced by sounding as if Butterfly McQueen’s voice were speeded up from 45 to 78 rpms.
As Cornelius, Daniel Palladino adeptly played first the country mouse and then the city mouse before letting the man emerge. Palladino is a young man, of course, but the way that he expressed his deep feelings for Irene suggested that even at his tender age, he already knows what love is.
Jewell Noel resembles Patina Miller in both looks and talent. Her Irene Molloy was transformed from the moment she put on her hat and felt the ribbons down her back. Dolly must be strong and single-minded, of course, but Noel was no less determined. Her voice had the quality of a rare wine that had been aged to perfection.
Oh, and Dolly? Sheika Murray had an equally impressive vocal outing. When she sang “Listen and hear that brass harmony growing,” she made the word brass sound brassy in the same way that Streisand made wah-wah mute resemble just such a device.
Murray grabbed the title role with the conviction of a Humphrey Bogart grabbing an Arnold Stang. This lady didn’t request a sign from Ephraim Levi; she demanded it. She spoke as quickly as your average Amy in Company, but was far easier to understand.
This was my ninth production of Dolly dating back to 1965 – Channing, Rogers, Bailey and Feldshuh among them -- and yet, I got something new here from Murray. First, during “I Put My Hand In,” she made the sign of the cross when reaching the lyric “It’s my duty to assist the Lord above.” (That’s right: Dolly Gallagher Levi.)
Second, because male teens are still in short supply in musical theater, Dolly had to greet more waitresses than waiters in the Harmonia Gardens. She pretended that these lasses were Harry and Louie, but by the time that she got to Manny and Danny, she started addressing theatergoers sitting in front of her. Now that makes sense: why must all the greetings go to waiters? That night at the Harmonia Gardens, there were undoubtedly diners that she also remembered, so her shaking the hand of a first-row patron and singing “Glad to see you, Hank” made perfect sense.
There was one more surprise in store. When Murray sang “Lose some weight, Stanley?” to an audience member, she didn’t say it as a compliment, but actually sang it as advice -- or even as a command.
And wouldn’t you know that the fatso whom she singled out was I?
— Peter Filichia