Hello, Dolly was my mother’s favorite musical and if she was here today she would have been among the enthusiastic audience that laughed, sang and cheered Savoyards most recent production. She and I were there 17 years ago when this highly professional theatre company thrilled local audiences with their first production of Hello, Dolly.
It was great fun then but this time around they have presented a truly stunning show.
Let’s start with the sets and there are four major set changes. Opening with Horace Vandergelder’s Yonkers feed store, including the basement trap door, the four main characters burst on stage after the audience has been lured by musical director Brian Morrison’s beautiful arrangement of the signature tune. The moment the orchestra strikes up you can feel, rather than see, the smiles of recognition on the faces of the audience they know and love this song. The haunting melody leads into a robust medley of the familiar tunes that are Hello, Dolly. Morrison’s command of the score is impressive, even for such an accomplished musical director.
The set design of the Harmonia Gardens restaurant where much of the action and comedy takes place is far beyond anything an amateur theatre group is normally able to provide, but Savoyards’ 43 years of experience and skill is the telling feature. This set is glorious as well as functional and vast.
Choreographer Natalie Lennox is a genius. As her first full-scale musical production, she should be very chuffed indeed with her work. Somehow she has managed to incorporate some pretty fancy gymnastics into the routines that are a credit to the chorus. One of the distinguishing features of this company is its ability to incorporate veterans and novices. And here Lennox excels. Among the chorus are some fresh young faces that are clearly having a ball extending themselves through complex and exhausting dance routines as well as supporting the leads in the demanding musical roles.
Director Terri Quinn’s interpretation of this old favorite clearly demonstrates the depth of talent at the Savoyards company. Quinn’s direction has produced a cracking team that exudes precision and skill. She acknowledges the support of the amazing team she’s brought together including assistant director Michelle Coates and wardrobe mistress Marilyn Freeman. And what a job Freeman has done. It’s hard to imagine that a full-scale commercial production could have assembled a better wardrobe. Freeman’s significant efforts are, well, dazzling! Not only are the Hello, Dolly costumes numerous but due to the period style, also challenging to source. The variety is lovely and so fitting for the setting.
If the sets, music and costumes are not enough for a good night out then the principals’ performances certainly will be.
Jo Toia as Mrs Dolly Gallagher is superb. A veteran of musical theatre and Savoyards she joined the company as a 12-year-old dancer and was in the company’s first production of The Merry Widow Toia’s musical range, comedic timing and dance skill are testimony to her talent and diverse experience. Her seemingly effortless ability to sing, dance and act is the energy that drives the show. Make no mistake, this is a demanding role that only a sophisticated performer can pull off. Toia has the support of a dedicated team of principals and chorus. Her male lead, Rob Vella as Horace Vandergelder, is as good as any in this musical. Surprisingly from a rock background, Vella’s interpretation of the score and his own physically tough routines perfectly complements Toia and the other principals.
Savoyards deserve the accolades that will surely follow this production. The company’s dedication to bringing on young performers while supporting them with veterans who know what they are doing will provide Baysiders with a very slick local company for many years to come.