Saturday, July 20, 2013

Well, Hello, Goodspeed and Klea Blackhurst!

It’s so nice to have you back where you belong
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski

                                                 Hello, Dolly,......well, Hello, Dolly...

"The idea of Klea Blackhurst playing Dolly Gallagher Levi sounded 100% right, but  I see my estimated
Put On Your Sunday Clothes Klea Blackhurst
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
percentage was on the low side. How magnificent Blackhurst was in the way that she crowed “Before the Parade Passes By,” with a voice that shone like a new trombone and a new baton.  Blackhurst also played with the melody just a bit, but not enough to have unnerved Jerry Herman (or Charles Strouse). Best of all, even from this one number Blackhurst was no imitator of any previous Dolly, but brought her distinctive personality to it. Hello, Dolly! ran June 28 through Sept. 14 at that East Haddam haunt, and you’ll only be sorry if you didn't see it."
~  Peter Filichia

One of the greatest musicals ever written, Hello, Dolly! brings to life the tale of Dolly Levi and celebrates the

search for love.

A matchmaker named Dolly Levi takes a trip to Yonkers, New York to see the "well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire," Horace Vandergelder…and she takes us with her.It only takes a moment to fall in love, says Cornelius Hackl of Yonkers, New York, and I was in love the moment I heard the opening strains of Hello, Dolly at the top of the show. .
Goodspeed Musicals presents the Tony-winning musical Hello, Dolly!, directed by Daniel Goldstein, now through September 14th, 2013, at Goodspeed Opera House (
In addition to Blackhurst, the cast also includes Ashley Brown as Irene Malloy, Tony nominee Tony Sheldon as Horace Vandergelder, Jeremy Morse as Barnaby Tucker, Brooke Shapiro as Ermengarde, Spencer Moses as Cornelius Hackl, Charles MacEachern as Ambrose Kemper and Catherine Blades as Minnie Fay. 
This Dolly is looking swell! This production is pure razzle dazzle as it should be! 

Hello, Dolly! Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Hello, Dolly!, of course, is based on Thornton Wilder's 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955.
Hello, Dolly! was first produced on Broadway at the St. James Theater by David Merrick in 1964, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical and nine other Tonys. When Hello, Dolly! premiered in Detroit on November 18th, 1963 with the original company starring Carol Channing, it opened to mediocre reviews, but with the addition of Before The Parade Passes By in Washington DC,  it opened on Broadway to great reviews; receiving eleven Tony nominations, winning 
ten awards-including Best Musical- and ultimately, became the town’s hottest ticket.
There are many who cannot think of Hello, Dolly! without thinking of Carol Channing.
Channing embodied the role like no other for over 5,000 performances; a feat we will never see again.
Pictured L to R: Catherine Blades, Jeremy Morse, Brooke Shapiro, Charles MacEachern, Ashley Brown, and Spencer Moses. -
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski

That type of star no longer exists.
I have devoted the last 19 months to researching and writing about Hello, Dolly! This year alone, I saw Nancy Opel as Dolly (at the Signature Theater in Washington DC), Christine Toy Johnson (twice) in an all Asian Company (for the National Asian Artists Project), AMAS’ production with a teen aged cast, AND a high school production.  In the autumn, Sally Struthers is embarking on a National tour.
I enjoyed them all and this blog celebrates them all.
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
They all had aspects that I loved. They also had things that I disliked.

Those aspects will not find their way into print. My goal is to celebrate rather than to criticize.
When I first heard that Goodspeed was going to be Dolly as part of THEIR 50th anniversary season, I was excited because I knew that they would honor the integrity and intent of the original creators and collaborators. I also mentioned to Klea Blackhurst to make sure that she got on their radar!

“It Takes a Woman” Tony Sheldon and the cast
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Most know that Jerry Herman wrote the original songs of Hello, Dolly with Ethel Merman in mind.
When Merman was approached and turned it down after four years of Gypsy, both Herman and David Merrick were crushed. As Merman said, “They had to settle for Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Bibi Osterwald” before she finally agreed to do it. When Merman came into the show, she stayed on long enough to ensure that it was Broadway’s longest running show at that time surpassing the then record held by My Fair Lady.

It is interesting to note that Hello, Dolly has only been revived three times on Broadway and each time by two of the original run’s  Iconic Dollys, Carol Channing (in ’77 and ’96) and Pearl Bailey in ’71.
Klea Blackhurst, Tony Sheldon, Ashley Brown, and Catherine Blades - See more at:
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
I think the world is ready for a new Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! I believe that Goodspeed's production might be just the ticket.
It hasn’t been done for various  reasons, the stamp of the original is so deep, that there is a fear of trying to replicate that magic. There are also those egotists who feel they can improve upon the original.
It doesn’t need to be improved upon. I consider it a perfect show. As Lee Roy Reams says, as long as the intent is there, you will succeed.
 When I have seen productions in which directors and choreographers want to get away from the intent, I just scratch my head in bewilderment. I saw one production a few years ago in which the dancers were doing hip-hop moves and head rolls in Put on Your Sunday Clothes!  One of the productions I saw this year turned The Waiter’s Gallop into a tap number and loosing the intent of the number altogether.

Klea Blackhurst, Tony Sheldon
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Also by eliminating the stairs, Dolly’s entrance into the Harmonia Gardens was dissipated and watered down. She also sang the opening bars of “Hello, Harry, Hello, Rudy” out to the audience rather than to, what should have been” fawning waiters/old friends! 

Back to Klea and this production…She certainly got on Goodspeed’s radar and they saw the light of Dolly by casting her. Klea told me in a previous interview that she had auditioned for various productions of Dolly over the years, but never made the grade.
Timing is everything. With her being cast as Dolly Levi and Tony Sheldon being cast as Horace Vandergelder, along with Daniel Goldstein’s brilliant swift direction and Kelli Barclay’s exuberant chorography with the perfect nods to Gower Champion, and a superb supporting cast and chorus, along with the Goodpeed stamp of excellence, and you have the PERFECT Hello, Dolly!

Half way during the show, through tear stained eyes, all I could think of is how much I desire Carol Channing and Jerry Herman to see this production.
Will Burton, Klea Blackhurst, and Steve Geary
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Gower has to be smiling down on this production. The Goodspeed Opera House has a small stage but thanks to scenic design of Adrian W. Jones, the space is utilized for maximum effect.
The backdrop, as people come into the theater, is a large sepia HAND-PAINTED sepia three dimensional backdrop of the 14th Street Parade.
 With the opening strains of the “overture”, the sound is as lush as the original production's Philip Lang and Peter Howard intended it to be.
 As the curtain/backdrop changes to the brightest red and rises, we see a chorus of New York natives in muted colors to match the sepia tones of the photograph in gorgeous costumes designed by Wade Laboissonniere as they instruct us to Call on Dolly for whatever needs may arise, especially in the matchmaking department.

Ashley Brown proudly wears a “provocative” hat as Irene Malloy
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
When Dolly enters, she is in a brighter orange and each of her costumes throughout match her personality.
One aspect that I have always loved with Thornton Wilder’s original The Matchmaker, which Michael Stewart carried over, is the breaking of the “fourth wall”. Goldstein’s direction extends that a little further. Dolly/Klea makes her entrance from the back of the house a la Merman in Gypsy.
As she dispenses her cards to members of the audience at the top of the show, she immediately puts us under her spell.

Klea exudes a warmth that is as if she is welcoming each and everyone as if we are old friends or ones that are about to become fast ones. These opening moments set the tone for the entire evening and makes her later descent down the stairs in Act Two absolutely believable.
Jeremy Morse and Spencer Moses taste adventure
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Speaking of that moment, there is a playfulness that I have not seen with other Dollys since Channing.  
I also have to say that the eating scene is the best that I've seen since Channing's. Klea hits a bull's eye with every laugh and, boy, that voice!

Tony Sheldon’s Horace Vandergelder is the most loveable Horace I have ever seen on stage. The   
Klea and Tony in rehearsal (Courtesy: Tony Sheldon)
curmudgeon is there in all aspects of what Horace is, but you can see a loveable flirtatious underlying layer of warmth as well.

Ashley Brown, known mainly to New York audiences as Mary Poppins, is a infectious Irene Molloy. She hits all the right marks.
Spencer Moses as Cornelius Hackl harkens back to Charles Nelson Reilly as far as a comedic Cornelius is concerned. 
He reminds me of Ray Bolger.Jeremy Morse as Barnaby Tucker was the perfect sidekick.
 Catherine Blades is the cutest Minnie Fay this side of the original, Sondra Lee.
Regarding the afore mentioned Waiters Gallop, WOW! WOW!! WOW!!! 
It builds and builds and builds to the climax of Dolly’s entrance and return to the human race at the Harmonia Gardens.

The Waiter’s Gallop is solely a Gower Champion creation. Any production of Dolly that does not take advantage of that knowledge should simply check their hats at the door. THIS Waiter’s Gallop stopped the show like none other I’ve seen. The sustained applause at the end of this segment was the longest sustained
with Melodie Wofford
applause I have heard in the theater in a long time. It was also great to see my old friend Melodie Wofford.
She lights up the stage each time she appears with a smile to rival Channing’s.
The music soars in this production. I truly wish they would record it.
Klea’s clarion voice is a marvel.

I also want to give a nod to casting directors Stuart Howard and Paul Hardt. Every person is perfectly cast. Share in the feel-good zest of the song-and-dance fun… a tremendous generosity of spirit… this whips through the theatre like a summer breeze. 
This production is sponsored by Bank of America, Comcast, The Shops of Mohegan Sun, and Essex Meadows.
This production has HIT written all over it!
Klea Blackhurst IS Dolly Levi!
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Check out Peter Filichia's review HERE.
Thank you to EVERYONE involved in this production for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
A special thank you to Elisa Hale for all her cooperation and for the use of the photographs used in this blog


Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!


Richard Skipper   
Wow, wow, wow fellas! Klea Blackhurst
Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
This Blog is dedicated to ALL THAT HAVE BEEN TOUCHED BY Hello, Dolly and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with this show on ANY Level!

KLEA BLACKHURST as Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi