This past weekend, the beloved 1964 Broadway classic “Hello, Dolly!”came to Spokane’s very own INB Performing Arts Center. Based on the play “The Matchmaker”by Thornton Wilder, “Hello, Dolly!”featured Portland native Sally Struthers, an Emmy Award-winning actress known best for her roles as Gloria Stivic in “All In the Family” and Babette in “Gilmore Girls." She performed in the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a self-proclaimed professional “meddler” who has been enlisted to find a match for the stubborn and cantankerous millionaire Horace Vandergelder, as played by John O'Creagh. Little does he know that she intends to win him over for herself!
Other well-known faces who appeared on stage for this performance included Halle Morse (“Mamma Mia!”), Lauren Blackman (“Singin’ in the Rain”, “Mary Poppins”), Garett Hawe (“Newsies”), and Brad Frenette (“Sweeney Todd”). With charming and witty dialogue and an unforgettable score written by the American composer Jerry Herman, “Hello, Dolly!”has charmed audiences everywhere for decades.
Opening nights are always a challenge, particularly for touring shows such as this one, when the cast and crew have very little time to get acquainted with their latest venue. There were certainly a few things that were a bit rough around the edges on Thursday night. At one point there were some microphone mishaps and a little bit of dialogue was lost. Spotlighting was not perfect, and occasionally we saw things the audience is not meant to see — people hiding behind set pieces were not always completely hidden, for instance, or were sometimes slightly visible in the wings. All in all, however, these details did not, at least for me, detract much from my enjoyment of the show.
Struthers made a delightful Dolly; she was brash and almost crude in the most endearing of ways, but also heartfelt and candid in soliloquies addressed to her deceased husband. A highlight of the performance was a scene, which seemed to be mostly improvised, in which she had the audience in stitches for about 10 minutes doing nothing but eating: she chattered quietly and mostly unintelligibly to herself, looking sideways before drinking wine straight out of the bottle or salting the food that was already in her mouth. The rest of the characters looked on, dumbfounded, and the man sitting behind me simply could not keep it together.
The costumes were fantastic and the hilarious banter and pandemonium beautifully executed, but the sets, while not bad, left a little to be desired. The restaurant scene was one of my favorites; in addition to Dolly’s antics, it featured some extremely impressive dancing, acrobatics, and expertly coordinated throwing of food about the stage, though unfortunately this was some of the only major choreography in the production.
Struthers’ performance was certainly amplified by the rest of the cast; in addition to Dolly and Horace’s awkward but amusing relationship, three other rather unlikely pairings flourish against all odds — lovers Ambrose Kemper, an artist, and Horace’s melodramatic niece Ermengarde, Horace’s head clerk, Cornelius Hackl, who is experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis that prompts him to drag his young coworker Barnaby into the city for an “adventure,” ends up with his boss’s former almost-fiancée while Barnaby falls head over heels for her assistant. While perhaps unrealistically idealized, each couple’s little romance is a lesson in absolute faith in the purest love, and one can’t help but feel a little bit warm and fuzzy watching it all unfold. It was an immensely enjoyable show!