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Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, Book by Michael Stewart
Based on the play "The Matchmaker" by Thornton Wilder

Artisan Center Theater

Director - Dennis Canright
Producer - Dee Ann Blair
Assistant Director - Laura Saladino
Stage Manager - Mary Qualls
Assistant Stage Manager - Michael Williams
Production Assistant - Matthew Morton
Musical Director - Richard Gwozdz
Choreography - Brandi Dibler
Choreography Assistant - Eddie Floresca
Costume Design - Nita Cadenhead
Props - Tammie Phillips
Set Design - Jason Leyva
Scenic Painting - Lily Stapp
Sound Design - Jason Leyva
Light Design - Lindsay Hardisty

CAST (This show is double cast)

Dolly Gallagher Levi - Donna Cates
Horace Vandergelder - Neil Rogers
Cornelius Hackl - Drew Davis
Barnaby Tucker - Michael Pandolfo
Ermangard - Bethany Stanelle
Ambrose Kemper - David Phillips
Irene Malloy - Amanda Gupton
Minnie Fay - Meredith Stowe
Ernestina - Lindsay Hardisty
Mrs. Rose - Desiree Martinez
Mrs. Mortimer - Jennifer Leyva
Rudolph - Chris Seil
Judge/Stanley - Timothy Raif
Clerk - Kristy Conway
Louie - Michael Williams
Hank - Jeff Carr
Manny - Michael Salvador
Danny - Matthew Pandolfo
Harry - Ivan Lippens
Ensemble - Victoria Radford, Tempie Dewar, Lillie Dewar,
Ashtyn Campbell, Kristina Bain, Michelle Du Frane

Reviewed Performance: 8/11/2011

Reviewed by Bonnie K. Daman, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Hello, Artisan!

Millinery and mayhem abound in Artisan Center Theater's current production Hello, Dolly! The Hurst community theater boasts a company of 50+ performers, spread across two casts, to bring this classic tale of the loveable but meddlesome matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi to the stage.

I regret to say that due to seeing the 1969 film starring Barbara Streisand at a young age, this particular musical has never been my "cup of tea" (please don't think so little of me). I unfortunately let my experience in the past dictate any predetermined opinions I still have of the show today ? which is why I requested to review Artisan's production. If any theatre can turn my interest or make me a fan of a show, Artisan usually can.

If you're unfamiliar with the storyline, here's a quick summary:

Dolly Levi has come to Yonkers, New York to find a wife for Horace Vandergelder. Matchmaker and dance instructor extraordinaire, Dolly has her own sights set on Vandergelder and concocts a plan to get her man. Woven into her strategy are Vandergelder's employees Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker who want to enjoy a night on the town in New York City, have a nice meal, see a stuffed whale at the museum and kiss a girl.

Dolly sends the two young men to a hat shop in the city where they meet Irene Malloy who is to be engaged to Vandergelder, and Minnie Fay. Under the pretenses that Cornelius and Barnaby are well-off bachelors, and with some coaxing from Dolly, the two couples spend a glorious day at the Fourteenth Street Association Parade, dancing and ending the night at the Harmonia Gardens fine dining establishment. At the climax of the story all of the characters converge at this one location and true identities and true feelings are revealed, including what the future holds for Dolly and Horace Vandergelder.

Artisan's second weekend of Hello, Dolly! opened to a semi-full crowd. The audience was visually treated to a beautiful set of vintage backdrops painted by Lily Stapp, an artist who truly outdoes herself with each production. The looking glass view of the streets of Yonkers was a poignant look at life before the turn of the 20th Century.

Jason Leyva's set design was simple yet versatile. A few moving props and strategically planned out set pieces enhanced the pacing of the show with no delay between set changes, barely even a blackout. This was also testament to some great teamwork between Leyva and Director Dennis Canright as the length of show came in around two hours not including intermission.

For the climactic scene at the Harmonia Gardens, two velvet red curtains were hung from the ceiling in opposite corners of the set to distinguish the diners' private booths. From my vantage point it was awkward trying to get a good view of the actors when the curtains were drawn, however it may have been a necessity due to the amount of action/dancing that took place on center stage and for other obvious reasons such as safety away from the dancers' props.

The choreography wasn't over-complicated for the amount of musical numbers there were, however Canright's cast did contain a handful of actual dancers instead of actors taught to dance. These few carried the bulk of the chorus numbers with special kudos to partners Michael Salvador and Michelle Du Frane and to Bethany Stanelle for a beautiful shoulder sit lift.

Choreographer Brandi Dibler did a fine job getting the entire cast to learn to waltz or polka. In most numbers there was equal amount of spacing between couples and none of the men had to look at their feet. Dibler even put the lead characters through the ringer adding plenty of movement to their songs. A lot of stamina was needed to sing and dance simultaneously, so as a whole the cast nailed their dance steps but the singing lost its volume in scenes that included the entire chorus which was a little surprising.

The Harmonia Gardens opening dance number was one of the scenes I enjoyed most. The men's ensemble, dressed as waiters, showed off a few tricks and comedic uses of props. It wasn't perfect but the audience seemed to have a good laugh and even some "ooh and ahh" moments.

I also couldn't take my eyes off the costumes, particularly the women's. I wished I knew more in detail about costuming for that period (any period for that matter) to be able to describe it. Just know that there were endless amounts of frills, lace, umbrellas, and feathers and of course hats! Artisan had its own millinery (hat making) team for the production. These ladies must have worked hard because I could not distinguish the handmade hats from the rentals ? if there were any.

Dolly Levi's wardrobe and accessories were furnished by Broadway Costumes, a beautiful collection of dresses and hats to make any actor stand out. Some nice pieces were worn by the men as well including a spiffy top hat and coattails for Vandergelder and Cornelius' brash plaid jacket.

Dennis Canright headed up this fine cast and production team. Canright's collaboration not only with his set designer, as mentioned previously, but with his choreographer, the musical director, stage management team and all the other contributors was evident in how smoothly the show progressed.

I noted a couple of scenes where Canright's staging really played out well for the enjoyment of the audience. The scene in Irene Malloy's hat shop was the first in which Cornelius and Barnaby hide from Vandergelder. The women's efforts to hide these men and try to help them escape were messed up and hopeless, what should have been obvious to the audience. To the actors it was complete panic and chaos and the scene garnered plenty of laughs.

Second was Canright's recreation of Dolly's entrance into Harmonia Gardens, the iconic scene that led into the show's title song "Hello, Dolly". The combination of the music cues, lighting and staging illuminated this one moment as Dolly stepped onto the platform and slowly made her way down the staircase. It was a picturesque moment acknowledged by applause from the audience.

Featured in the role of Dolly Levi, Donna Cates stepped in for her fellow actor this past Thursday night (Cates is on the Monday/Friday/Saturday matinee cast). She was commanding onstage, as the busybody Levi, though she strayed away from Streisand on screen portrayal of Dolly as a Jewish matron which I thought was a positive thing. Cates' alto voice was clear and audible and she hit all of her musical cues on time and on key. She needed just a little more strength in Act One's closing number "Before the Parade Passes By" but by Act Two during her "So Long Dearie" performance, the bravado I was looking for came through and she ended the show on a high note.

I adored the interaction between Cates and Neil Rogers as Horace Vandergelder. Their bantering and her prodding and faux naivety came across so well on stage it seemed they'd worked together continuously in the same cast. Rogers' character was one that women love to scorn; an egotistical, clueless man. I could imagine Vandergelder as being strongly opposed to the women's rights movement of the 1960's ? until Dolly came along. Rogers' performance was night and day as I watched his transformation from Act One's gruff, maniacal businessman into a man whose eyes had been opened to see Dolly as she wanted to be seen. It not only surprised Dolly but you could see it surprised himself and he was a broken man to find love.

The dynamic duo of Cornelius Hackle and Barnaby Tucker were played by Drew Davis and Michael Pandolfo. Davis was truly meant to be a performer. There wasn't a single action or dance step that he didn't take with purpose. His vocals were exquisite and I'd be interested to see what he could really do because the role of Cornelius didn't seem as musically versatile. Teamed with Pandolfo the two were a riot to watch. I actually remembered seeing Pandolfo in The Secret Garden at Artisan a few years ago as a boy. I was impressed then but even more impressed now at how composed this young actor was on stage. His held his own next to Davis, and their chemistry was highly entertaining to say the least.

Amanda Gupton as Irene Malloy stole my breath away in her performance of "Ribbons Down My Back". It was a very somber yet hopeful song and she was endearing as the young widow. Gupton's voice, speaking or singing, was also very calming and there was a maturity and grace in her performance that I don't often see.

Meredith Stowe as Minnie Fay reminded me of a Disney princess. The character didn't have much dedicated to her in the script or musical numbers, but Minnie was an important and constant presence on stage. Stowe was wide-eyed, innocent and playful and she partnered beautifully with Gupton, Pandolfo and Davis.

The remaining cast members were interchangeable as townspeople, waiters, dancers and miscellaneous characters. Artisan didn't seem to have any issues finding women for the show but I suspected that they were low on their pool of men to fill the smaller roles. The younger male actors stepped up to the challenge but take note for future reference if you're a guy and you're in the acting scene ? Artisan holds auditions nearly every month.

So back to my original statement about Hello, Dolly! not being my "cup of tea". I'll admit that my experience with Artisan has definitely improved my opinion for the better! My feelings for the actual musical aside, Artisan still puts on a lively, family-friendly production that's great entertainment for young and old alike.

Hello Dolly!
Artisan Center Theater, 418 E. Pipeline Road , Hurst, Texas 76053
Runs through September 3rd

Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 7:30pm Saturday matinees @ 3:00pm

For tickets or more information, please call 817-284-1200 or go to