The Production Company is giving Melbourne theatregoers the opportunity to take a walk down memory lane with a piece of classic musical theatre, Hello, Dolly!  Directed by Gary Young and Musically Directed by Vanessa Scammel, Hello, Dolly!  features Marina Prior in the title role, with her husband Grant Piro playing opposite her as Horace Vandergelder. Performing at the Playhouse requires a scaled back version of the show, with a cast of only 19, and a 14-piece orchestra who were onstage for the entire show.

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The set, designed by Shaun Gurton, was quite simple, with a few select pieces of furniture, wheeled freely on and offstage by cast members, used to create a range of locations from Vandergelder’s Hay & Feed to the Harmonia Gardens restaurant. Occasionally, minimalistic structures descended from the fly to add a frame to more elaborate scenes. The stage was divided into five distinct areas; a narrow stage in the foreground where most of the action took place, a central area where the orchestra resided which was flanked by a wide staircase on each side, and a raised stage at the rear, where most of the entrances occurred. The relatively small performance space ensured that even the reduced cast managed to adequately fill the stage during the whole cast numbers such as the 14th St Parade, and the evening at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant.

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The placement of the orchestra on stage worked particularly well for the restaurant scene, and was surprisingly unobtrusive for the remainder of the show. The balance of sound between the orchestra and the vocals was excellent. It seemed at times that the ensemble was singing in the wings to bolster the sound, and the entire cast joined in singing the title number.

The vocals were impressive across the board, in particular Prior who sang the role of Dolly Levi beautifully and Verity Hunt-Ballard who stood out vocally as Irene Molloy. Hunt-Ballard’s performance in general was notable. The character of Irene Molloy was charming and believable, and had an excellent rapport with Cornelius Hackl, played ably by Glenn Hill.

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Many of the supporting characters are written as quite two dimensional, and don’t give a lot of scope for the performer to show their abilities. Certainly, that is the case for Ermengarde, played by Baylie Carson, who gets to do little more than sob violently, and Barnaby Tucker, played by Nigel Huckle, who at least did get to show his considerable dance skills.

Even the major character of Vendergelder is stereotypical in a sexist, curmudgeonly fashion, but Piro plays him in such a way as to not alienate the audience. The ongoing verbal sparring between Levi and Vandergelder is extremely entertaining, enhanced by the chemistry between the couple and Prior’s excellent comedic timing. Prior’s accent tended to be less than consistent, but the storyline allowed Prior to showcase her comedic skills (including some unexpected improvisation when a prop fell) and of course her vocal skills ensured the audiences support.

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The restaurant was the scene for cast members dropping things, with a couple of opening night accidents during the energetic Waiter’s Gallop. They were easily forgiven as the dancing in that scene was athletic, chaotic, and skilful, and therefore highly entertaining. Overall, the dancing, choregraphed by Kirsten King, made excellent use of the limited space and suited the characters.

Costuming, designed by Isaac Lummis, was a highlight of the show. The elaborate dresses and hats of the era were both beautiful and often made a statement, for example Dolly’s change of character in Act 2 was highlighted by the shimmering golden gown with a mermaid silhouette and a feather headdress. The brightly colour coordinated outfits in Put on Your Sunday Clothes could have been over the top, but it was the wide range of small details – the sunflowers on the hat for the yellow gown, the rosettes down the front of the orange gown, which made the overall effect work so well.

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The audience greeted both Marina Prior and Grant Piro with a standing ovation during the curtain calls clearly showing how much their performances, and the cast in general, had been appreciated. If you are a fan of old fashioned music theatre, be sure to see Hello, Dolly! At the Playhouse Theatre until June 11th.

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Photo credit: Jeff Busby