Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
I was lucky enough to see all the Dollys during the initial Broadway run and revivals. Channing, of course, set the template, Ginger Rodgers was dull, Phyllis Diller, surprisingly, was sensational, Martha Raye a riot, Pearl Bailey in a class of her own. Lastly was Ethel Merman, for whom the show was written, who was, as you might suspect, sensational. What the aforementioned all had was a "take" on the character. While holding onto the basic qualities of the matchmaker from Yonkers, they each brought a different quality to the role.
That is essentially what I find missing in Reams' portrayal. He is not only starring in the production but directs it as well. I was reminded of the old adage, "a lawyer who defends himself has only ... etc. etc." In the book scenes, Reams touchingly acts the pathos of Dolly vis a vis her late husband Ephraim, but very surprisingly, in the musical numbers his portrayal falls flat. Lee Roy Reams is "Mr. Broadway": he was a hell of a dancer, a great belting tenor, and lots of fun to watch on stage. He (usually) has given 200% while performing. I saw the opening performance, and the night before he had fallen down the onstage stairs. I am crediting his faulty movement on stage and some hesitancy on his lines to that mishap, and know that this trouper will find "the Dolly within."
As of right now, the show belongs to Lewis J. Stadlen, who brought the house down at the curtain call. He seems to be channeling the late David Burns as well as W.C. Fields. His grumpiness, tempered with an odd sweetness is endearing. He is, by far, the greatest Horace Vandergelder I have ever had the pleasure to have seen.
In other casting, the most delightful performance is given by petite Idalmy Carcache as Minnie Fay. A firecracker, she dances like a dream and brings energy to the millinery scenes (which have always needed a little boost). Susan Powell, Miss America 1981, looks great and sings a beautiful "Ribbons Down My Back" as Irene Malloy, and James Clow as Cornelius makes a handsome beau for her. Jason Edward Cook is a ball of adorable energy as Barnaby and the most polished dancer of the principals.
The choreography by Randy Slovacek is reminiscent of the late Gower Champion's original. And that's a good thing. In the iconic title number, Slovacek uses female as well as male waiters since his chorus is smalland it works. The audience ate it up.
As reviewers, we see the shows on opening night and I feel confident that, once everyone has settled into their respective roles and the titular star has found his way as the wonderful Dolly, the production will have the sass and the energy it so deserves.
Hello, Dolly! plays through December 6, 2015, at The Wick Theatre, 7901 No. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL. 561-995-2333 thewick.org.