You're looking for a warm, lively, sweetly sentimental holiday-season show, but you've had it up to here with Santas and Tiny Tims, as well as would-be funny take-offs on Santas and Tiny Tims. Say hello to Hello, Dolly!
Boulder's Dinner Theatre director Michael Duran has a long history with Hello, Dolly! His first significant job as a young actor in the early 1980s was in a production starring Carol Channing. Having discovered that Duran was a registered physical therapist, the 63-year-old Channing insisted that he join the cast of the touring show — and it's her unmistakable voice you hear welcoming you at the beginning of the BDT show.
I'm probably the sole theater-going human in the universe who hadn't seen some version of this old warhorse. Hello, Dolly! is the story of a meddlesome widow, Dolly Levi, who makes a living connecting people. Ostensibly trying to find a wife for half-millionaire feed-store owner Horace Vandergelder (she's also hooking up his whiny daughter with someone he disapproves of), she's actually plotting to snare him for herself. First, though, she has to not only overcome his doubts, but also free herself from the memory of her beloved dead husband, Ephraim. The plot — absurd, episodic, dated in parts — serves only as a pretext for songs, dances and comic scenes, but the dialogue still has snap, and the songs are very seductive. "It Takes a Woman" is a funny sendup of '50s marital expectations: "It takes a woman all powdered and pink/To joyously clean out the drain in the sink/And it takes an angel with long golden lashes/And soft Dresden fingers for dumping the ashes"; "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" is one of those joyous showstoppers that get your heart racing; "Dancing" starts as a comic dance lesson and ends with a horde of people swirling exhilaratingly across the stage; and "Before the Parade Passes By" is not just exhilarating, but touching, too. Oddly, the only song I knew before I saw the show, "Hello, Dolly," didn't do as much for me as the other numbers. Perhaps I've been ruined by Louis Armstrong's gorgeous gargly and ubiquitous rendition.
Duran has assembled a cast of seasoned veterans and dewy-eyed newbies — some of the latter a little green. It's hard to imagine a more perfect Dolly than Alicia Dunfee, who imbues the role with warmth and charm, sings movingly and brings depth and dignity to her soliloquies with her dead husband. (I love the fact that it's only when Vandergelder renounces his greed and inadvertently quotes a saying of Ephraim's — "Money is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread about, encouraging young things to grow" — that Dolly can allow herself to love him; you don't find this kind of gentle social conscience in a whole lot of contemporary musicals.) Another terrific performance comes from Tracy Warren, who has a pure, beautifully modulated singing voice and loads of appeal as hatmaker Irene Malloy. Wayne Kennedy unleashes a raft of his usual eccentricities going from hardass to soft heart as Vandergelder, and Brian Jackson finds a sincerity I haven't seen in previous performances as the sweetly goofy Cornelius. The direction and choreography (the latter by Dunfee and Matthew D. Peters) are clean and tight. They meld the disparate levels of talent on stage and give the performers a solid base from which to cut loose and enjoy themselves. Which they do — filling us with pleasure in the process.