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HELLO DOLLY (Birmingham Hippodrome, until Sat)

14-02-2008

Hello Dolly

It lit up the Grand in Wolverhampton last week, and now it’s packing them out at the Hippodrome. Terry Wills joins the throng lining up to see Anita Dobson and Darren Day in the latest revival of Jerry Herman’s magical musical.

Hello Dolly, well Hello Dolly, its so nice to have you back where you belong”

So who is Dolly? And where does she belong? Well Dolly Levi is America’s most beloved matchmaker, handing out introduction cards to all and sundry, and she belongs inside and outside the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in New York City in the year 1890 - her forte being to hopefully persuade the unlikeliest couples into holy matrimony.

At the same time she's deviously setting out to persuade half millionaire Horace Vandergarder – much against his will - to accompany her down the aisle.

Once his bulging cash balance is in tow she intends to spread his money like rainwater. A lesson fondly learned from her late husband. Let the matchmaking begin.

Does it work? Down the years Hello Dolly has received critical acclaim, including 10 Tony Awards and the New York Drama Critics award for a musical, leading to the claim that it’s “the biggest show stopper in the history of musical theatre’. A proud boast indeed and now the latest touring production starring Anita Dobson, Darren Day and David McAlister, aided by a 40 strong West End company has arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome for just five days.

As befits such a classic musical it contains all the required ingredients. Slick set changes, pleasing dancing, the expected glamorous colourful, very expensive costumes, and songs that have survived the test of time.

Indeed with music and lyrics composed by the legendary Jerry Herman it would be a major surprise if it hadn’t been a worldwide smash hit bearing in mind that apart from “Dolly”, he also wrote “Mame”, “La Cage Aux Folles”, and “Mack and Mabel.”

Those familiar with the show will know, and anticipate, the three spectacular full ensemble scenes. “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, “Before the Parade Passes By”, and what should be the show stopping title song "Hello Dolly".

The first two live up to expectations. Energetic singing and dancing, imaginative sets, both leaving the audience highly delighted only to be left slightly disappointed when Dolly makes her grand entrance, clad in one of her most glamorous dresses, down an illuminated staircase to sing the title number.

Anita Dobson will always be remembered for her long running role as Angie Watts in Eastenders and since then she’s starred in numerous musical productions. Her skill as an actress cannot be denied. She delivers the witty lines with great purpose but for me, and other patrons I spoke to, the general opinion was that her singing voice wasn’t equal to the leading role.

Her eventual, inevitable, second husband, is played by David McAlister. Always denying he ever intends to get married, we know from the start that once Dolly sets her sights on a man he’s as good as snared despite his protestations!

His assistant, Cornelius Hackle, is played by Darren Day and he too fills the role with a comfortable performance. Indeed all the cast give a spirited account of themselves - Louise English, in particular, playing hat shop owner Mrs Molloy, with suitable flair and a natural singing voice.

For those who appreciate revivals (although seeing as “Hello Dolly” is never away for any great length of time due to numerous productions by both professional or amateur musical companies it can hardly be classed as a revival) it’s certainly worth paying a visit to catch it this time round. I’m sure it’ll continue to attract large audiences wherever it’s playing especially judging by the number of out of town coach parties steadily making their way into Hippodrome!

As regards Anita Dobson’s portrayal as Dolly Levi, bearing in mind it’s been played by some of the legendary leading ladies of the theatre and on film including the almost incomparable Barbra Streisand in the 1969 film version, it may be unfair to expect to see a performance to equal that.

The nearest and most impressive performance from a leading lady in the role strangely, but perhaps not surprisingly, came way back in 1989 at the Hippodrome, when Dora Bryan bought the house down. And that long lasting nineteen year old impression will probably leave me subconcously feeling that performance will take a great deal of beating.

“Hello Dolly’-Farewell Dolly”, till we meet again!

Have you see Hello Dolly.

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