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Stage Reviews : 'Hello Dolly!'

July 18, 1986|CHALON SMITH

There's plenty to like in Pearson Park Theater's "Hello Dolly!": infectious enthusiasm, imaginative staging and colorful costumes. But it also has some serious flaws: awkward dancing, uneven acting and a sound system that needs tuning.

What ultimately makes it worthwhile is Jenny Wentworth in the starring role of Dolly Levin, the professional matchmaker who sees meddling as nothing less than high art. With her brash Joan Rivers voice, Wentworth's Dolly is not so much lovable as lusty; in fact, she takes such pleasure in manipulating people and events that it's difficult to sympathize with her own loneliness, which is central to the story. Still, Wentworth's portrayal is the show's tonic, and her Dolly appropriately dominates the stage.

Set in New York during the turn of the century, the musical (based on Thornton Wilder's play "The Matchmaker") follows Dolly as she tries to trap the prosperous Horace Vandergelder (Peter J. Edgar) for herself while ostensibly finding him a mate. The thin plot takes the duo from Vandergelder's hay and feed store in Yonkers to metropolitan New York, where, after a day and night of hijinks, Dolly accomplishes her goal.

Most "Hello Dolly!" productions save their best punch for the restaurant scene where Dolly sings the show's signature number and romance blooms amid a swirl of action, and it's no different here. Director Tom Blank and choreographers Susan Lee and Mary Bettini challenge the chorus to keep step with the tricky weaving of song and dance. There's not much trouble with the singing, but the dancing is worse than shaky: A few dancers even seem to abort turns midway to avoid collisions. The ambitious choreography, which is a touch eccentric, is apparently too complicated for the large ensemble to pull off en masse.

Wentworth is able to rise above this hazard, and the scene is entertaining. Despite a limited range, she is an expressive singer who brings a brassy energy to many of the numbers, especially "So Long Dearie" and "Hello Dolly!" As misanthropic Vandergelder, Edgar's barking performance communicates the character's arrogance, but little more. His one-dimensional acting is somewhat compensated by the compact strength of his singing.

Of the supporting roles, Cliff Senior as Cornelius Hackle is a natural. He's so good, in fact, that he almost overshadows Wentworth when they share the stage, not a small achievement. Senior's gentle tenor is excellent through most of the show but falters some on "It Only Takes a Moment," his big solo when Hackle confesses dewy love for shop owner Irene Molloy (Karen Cushing).

Like everyone else, Senior had to contend with a troublesome sound system during last Friday's opening performance. Even the most professional productions sometimes face body mike problems, but the recurring static and feedback at the Pearson Park Theater evolved from occasional annoyance to persistent nuisance by the show's end.

"Hello Dolly!" continues tonight and Saturday at Pearson Park Theater, 400 Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Call (714) 999-5191 for more information.

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