Sheader, the Artistic Director of the Open Air theatre, has resisted the urge to mess with Jerry Herman’s classic musical, straying away from forcing a new stylistic twist on it like feathers and cherries on a hat which should only have ribbons.
Instead the production revels in being entirely of its time; a big, bold musical comedy with big, bold musical numbers and quirky characters who you instinctively know will enjoy a brightly coloured happy ending.
Together with choreographer Stephen Mear, he ensures the show is packed with wit and laughter, from the farcical slapstick of escaped shop clerks hiding from their boss, to the sharpness of Dolly’s dialogue and the inventive, mesmerising choreography.
The ensemble dance numbers really do bring the best out of this production, Peter McKintosh’s colourful gowns and suits blending with Mear’s choreography to create spectacle after spectacle on the Open Air stage; a moldable vision in wood, simply transformed for each set change, with a bandstand watching over proceedings from above.
As the ever-interfering widow, Samantha Spiro offers a fast-talking pocket dynamo of a Dolly Levi, whirling in and out of lives and situations like a tornado creating the best, most well-intentioned kind of havoc imaginable. For someone with a greater ability for sticking her nose in where it is not required than Pinocchio at a lie-athon, she is remarkably loved within New York society, yet in Spiro’s hands you can see why. It is hard to dislike a character so full of life, which is why it is so painful when it becomes obvious she wistfully views love from the sidelines without feeling able to get involved.
Allan Corduner as the object of her desire, Horace Vandergelder, growls his way through the show, mistreating his staff and refusing to share any of his fortune. Yet through all the bluster and bravado, we love him too. If he is good enough for Dolly, he is good enough for us.
There are strong performances also from Josefina Gabrielle as the subtly playful milliner Irene Molloy, and Daniel Crossley as the browbeaten clerk Cornelius Hackl, his attempts at dancing reminiscent of Dick Van Dyke’s all-legs-and-arms technique.
The rain tried its best to drown out the joy of opening night, but the sheer warmth of Sheader’s production was enough to keep the summer chill from the hearts of the first night audience.