Photos by Connie Murphy.

LA PLATA, Md. – The Golden Age of musical theatre on Broadway typically falls into two distinct categories – unequivocally outdated with a side of offensive for the modern audience and surprisingly still relevant in the 21st century. 

While some shows of the first category have found redemption through innovative revivals (see: 2019’s Broadway revival of Oklahoma!), it is the latter category that possesses the ability to withstand the test of time. The Port Tobacco Players’ (PTP) latest production of Hello Dolly! happily rests in the relevant sector.

Photos by Connie Murphy.

Originally produced on Broadway in 1964 with a book by Michael Stewart and a score by Jerry Herman, Hello Dolly! is an adaptation of 1954’s The Matchmaker, which was a revisal of the 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, which was originally based upon a play from 1935 entitled A Day Well Spent. The show has since been revived on Broadway four times, adapted into a Barbra Streisand-led 1969 film, and even had an all-black production on Broadway in 1975. 

The story takes place in New York in the 1890s and centers around a widow of indeterminate age named Dolly Gallagher Levi who is a matchmaker by trade and has decided that it is time for her to “rejoin” society at last. Along the way, there are plenty of quirky characters and shenanigans to be had, all of which Dolly is the puppet mistress of. 

Set design by Chris Magee swaths the entire set almost completely in pastels for a large portion of the production, with an impressive transition to a brilliant crimson reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera’s set at the top of Act II. The sets fly in and out effortlessly, with very little downtime between scenes, allowing the story to flow at its intended brisk pace. 

Photos by Connie Murphy.

The decision to utilize the Hello Dolly! adorned curtain to display the theater’s top advertisers may have been a financially wise one, but a questionable one, creatively speaking. 

Magee is known for his inventive additions to the set, as evidenced by his work on PTP’s recent production of Beauty and the Beast. For this production, he pulls the stage out further toward the audience by creating a bow-front shape to it. This creative choice fully immerses the audience in the story to a refreshing end.

While I am happy to report that the entire cast of this production performs with a wherewithal that is impressive at this level of theatre, there were four actors that I found to be of particular note – Sarah Gravelle as Irene Malloy, Erich Engel-Cope as Cornelius Hackl, Wyatt Edwards as Barnaby Tucker, and Tessa N. Silvestro as Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi. 

Photos by Connie Murphy.

Gravelle brings a bright-eyed naivety to Irene that leaps off of the stage and pairs perfectly with Engel-Cope’s character. The two’s chemistry is off-the-charts and makes you fall in love right along with them. Engel-Cope has this insane ability to give what I can only refer to as the “irrevocable love” look when he looks at Gravelle’s character. The comedic timing of both actors is excellent and had me guffawing several times. 

Edwards exudes an endless amount of juvenile energy brimming from the core of his being during every single sequence that he is in. He creates a character that feels reminiscent of a little brother that we’ve all known for many years. 

Photos by Connie Murphy.

Silvestro brings down the house with an immensely well-rounded performance as the titular lead Dolly. At one moment she’s making you empathize with Dolly and feel her pain. At the next moment, she’s bringing forth laughter from the depths of your being that you didn’t even know existed before that moment. Her best scene occurs late in Act II and is an endless source of joyous laughter. I have seen Silvestro perform in quite a few productions, but I must say that she has truly outdone herself in this one. Here’s hoping the community theatre gods see fit to grant my request to cast her as the leading lady in many more future productions to come. 

Benjamin Simpson serves as both director and choreographer to satisfying results. He keeps the action of the story clipping by with an impressive rhythm and enhances the chipper nature of the musical with his infectiously exuberant choreography. Of particular note was the show-stopping number of “Before The Parade Passes By.” The jaunty flare of Simpson’s blocking further compliments the aforementioned choreography. Having the ensemble skip across the front of the stage while unabashedly mugging the audience during each major dance number brings an enthusiastic feel to those scenes that envelopes the theater in unadulterated warmth. 

Photos by Connie Murphy.

This is a production that can be enjoyed by quite a spread of people. Everyone from a more seasoned generation to the more inexperienced crowd will find more than an ounce of glee in this lighthearted production. Were the late 1800s actually this energetic? Probably not, but that’s not the point of this show. This show portrays an overly romanticized, comedic version of reality that is an absolute dream for anyone who enjoys some good old-fashioned escapism. Allow Mrs. Dolly to whisk you away to happier times, where there are no lasting consequences, and life is a never-ending joy ride of hilarity.

The approximate run time is 2 hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.

Parental guidance is suggested for complex themes of misogyny with one character. The story handles it with nuance that may be difficult to understand for younger children. 

Photos by Connie Murphy.

Hello Dolly! is playing at the Port Tobacco Players at 508 Charles Street La Plata, MD 20646 from November 25th through December 18th, 2022.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website here

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