Encore Michigan

Hello to ‘Dolly’ at brand new Boardwalk Theatre

Review August 06, 2023 Paula Bradley

St. CLAIRE, MI–The entire block was buzzing on a clear Friday evening in St. Clair, as theatre-goers streamed into the brand new Boardwalk Theatre for its Grand Opening.  Planned and built over the last few years, the 370-seat Boardwalk Theatre now stands in the heart of the downtown plaza, just across the street from a riverfront park and boardwalk. 

Founders Tom and Kathy Vertin also oversee the 98-seat Snug and the 180-seat Riverbank Theatres in neighboring Marine City, both of which are located in renovated historic buildings. But the newly-constructed Boardwalk boasts a large, high-ceilinged lobby featuring a unique blown-glass chandelier, and a small bar serving cocktails.  Inside the house, the walls are covered with clusters of panels, upon which can be projected any number of customized images; for tonight’s grand opening, the names of the hundreds of donors that helped bring the project to fruition were displayed.

The occasion of the grand opening of the Boardwalk marks the 75th production for the Riverbank team, and they chose to reprise Hello, Dolly!, which was the very first musical production performed at The Snug a decade ago. This production was directed and choreographed by Brittany Everitt Smith, with music and vocal direction by Colleen Everitt. Hello, Dolly! is written by Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman, and based on the Thornton Wilder play The Matchmaker.  

Kathy Vertin is featured in the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow and self-described busybody who creates perfect marital matches in early 20th century Yonkers. Dolly is witty and subtly manipulative, with a notable success rate; she specializes in remarkably unique skills her clients need to land the right spouse. 

Her current client, “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (Randy Skotarczyk), thinks Dolly is matching him with local hat-maker Irene Malloy (Brittany Everitt Smith), but Dolly has decided to land Vendergelder for herself.  First, she must make him reject the widowed Mrs. Malloy, as well as decoy candidate Ernestina (Diana Turner), while making him think it is all his idea.

Fortunately, Vandergelder’s two employees Cornelius (David Moan) and Barnaby (Michael Decker) decide to ditch work and head to New York, where they stumble fortuitously into Dolly’s plan. 

Three plotlines soon collide at the high-end Harmonia Gardens Restaurant: Cornelius and Barnaby attempting to woo Mrs. Malloy and her protégé Minnie (Adalyna Mislevy), Vandergelder attempting to contain his shock at the brazen actions of Ernestina, and Dolly making a grand re-appearance at the Harmonia, where she has a history of being well-loved by the staff.  She cleverly orchestrates a conversation of marriage with Vandergelder, then just as cleverly turns a mix-up, a dance contest and resulting chaos to her advantage.

Dolly eventually inspires Cornelius to declare true love to Mrs.Malloy, whom Dolly ironically had no hand in matching up.  But in the end, her endearing machinations ultimately persuade Vandergelder to realize he must have Dolly as his wife. 

Hello, Dolly! is a well-loved classic musical not only for its charming story, but also for its fun music, which includes a good mix of tempo and voicing.  In Act 1, the robust men’s chorus  joins Vandergelder in “It Takes A Woman” to describe some of the reasons for wanting a wife.  Dolly, Cornelius, Barnaby, Mrs. Malloy and Minnie distract Vandergelder with slick choreography and patriotic fervor in “Motherhood March.”  When Act II opens, Mrs. Malloy, Minnie, Cornelius and Barnaby form a lively quartet in “Elegance.”  And the men’s chorus shines again in Waiters’ Gallop, this time with choreography instead of vocals, as they prance, march and spin on across the stage carrying various trays, glasses, plates, napkins and wine bottles.

The most notable vocal performance of the evening had to go to David Moan as Cornelius, when he declares his love in “It Only Takes A Moment.”  Otherwise the vocals overall were adequate, in some places a bit underwhelming. Vertin as Dolly has great acting chops and timing, but was somewhat lower-energy than expected on her vocal numbers. There were a few fixable opening night—and theatre grand opening—bumps in the show, including a couple missed light cues, and some mic or sound issues, which resulted in a canned or muffled sound on some of the dialogue. 

Vertin delivers a crafty and humorous Dolly that elicits smiles throughout the show. The characters of Vandergelder, Mrs. Malloy, Minnie, Cornelius and Barnaby are also well-developed, and the ensemble performs admirably. The marvelous pit orchestra and the colorful costumes also add to the overall enjoyment of this show. 

The humor and language are mild, so bring the whole family to enjoy this show in a wonderful brand new venue at The Boardwalk Theatre in St. Clair.  The show runs through August 20, 2023.

Week of 2/19/2024

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