Reviewing HELLO DOLLY at Chanhassen.

HELLO DOLLY is a show that many theatres do – and that is so very well-known. It has been done before at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. Wilma and I headed down there for the matinée this past Saturday to take in the show and have a nice dinner.

Let’s start with the dinner. We both had the lasagna, which we thought was quite good. The presentation was quite ordinary, though. No sprigs of parsley, nothing to dress up the plate. We kept it pretty simple as far as drinks went; coffee and water. We each got a piece of garlic bread, which was a bit disappointing – I thought there would be more bread offered. We followed up with dessert at intermission. I enjoyed a nice warm piece of triple berry tart, which went well with the coffee – and of THAT, there was plenty. Wilma had a turtle chocolate cheesecake, and in her words, it was “to die for”. The food, overall, quite good, but maybe a bit less in presentation than Chanhassen used to do…. And I do think we got our money’s worth for the food. The service was fine – quick and efficient, main course delivered quickly before the show and then a quick appearance of our desserts at intermission.

The facilities have been around since 1968 when it opened. The main theatre has had a few facelifts over the years – and the last time we were there, we noticed it was looking tired and in need of some new carpeting and stuff like that… and they’ve taken care of that. The lavatories were plentiful and clean. We took a walk through the complex when we were done eating; there are several shops connected to the theatre, as well as the usual box office and gift shop for the theatre itself. The main theatre, where HELLO DOLLY was staged, is a large venue. The seating (we were at a table for six, with none sitting in the middle seats) are ample enough but would have been rather tight if they had been there.

And so now to the show itself – after all, it is the main reason for heading down there.
HELLO DOLLY is based on the play THE MATCHMAKER by Thornton Wilder (more on that later…) and tells the story of one Dolly Levi, she of the optimistic plans and abilities to make things happen, among which are marriage arranging… and in this story, she is to find a mate for Horace Vandergelder (and that likely candidate is hat shop operator Mrs. Milloy) but her ultimate goal is to catch Horace for herself. On the way, we meet Horace’s employees Barnaby and Cornelius, who get themselves entwined as well with Mrs. Milloy and her employee Minnie.

The cast is vastly experiences and contains some fun surprises for Wilma and me. A while back we saw Tyler Michaels as Freddie in MY FAIR LADY at the Guthrie, but here he is as Cornelius. Longtime cast member Keith Rice plays the gruff Horace Vandergelder – we’ve seen him at Chanhassen as Curly in OKLAHOMA and Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN, to name a few. Cat Brindisi plays Mrs. Milloy, who had a part along with Tyler Michaels in MY FAIR LADY … and the fun thing here is that her mother plays Dolly…. And her dad? Michael Brindisi, who is very active in the Chanhassen theatres as part owner and as producer and director – he wears many hats indeed.

And that mother is Michelle Barber. She has been a strong presence in the theatre world of the Minneapolis area, having appeared on other stages in town as well as many appearances at Chanhassen. She plays Dolly as an upbeat lady who will not let conditions run her desires. Ms. Barber commands the stage when she is on, delivering lines with optimism and flowing across the stage in her marvelous gowns. Strong voice and great acting chops are always there for Ms. Barber, so she delivers a fine, fun Dolly for the audience. More on her later in a personal note.
Keith Rice also brings a strong presence to the role of Horace. He played it soft as Curly when he did in OKLAHOMA, but here in DOLLY, he is a gruff and no-nonsense man of the 1900s who runs his business and his social dealings with the usual effrontery of such men of the era. His big song is “IT TAKES A WOMAN” in which he leads the men of the office (and others) through his concerns about womanhood of the time.

Tyler Michaels plays the bumbling Cornelius – and is again a joy to watch as he uses his youthful appearance to give the part an innocence and childlike joy – until things get ridiculous and out of hand. Cat Brindisi, plays Mrs. Milloy, which is usually played by a somewhat older actress – but she hides her 22 years of age (or else the makeup department did) and she gives Mrs. Milloy a more saucy and sassy attitude – in other productions, the part is played as a bit prissy, so it was fun to see a new look at the role.

Dancers all over the place… the entire ensemble appears in so many of the songs… PUT ON YOUR SUNDAY BEST is one of the best, and of course, the big showstopper HELLO DOLLY is full of kicks and prancing and costuming and so much fun.

Costumes are period-perfect. Ladies in their long gowns and ribboned hats, men in their suits or their waiter’s outfit at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant … the only truly odd moment of the show is the choice of costumes used for the ‘band members’ in the song “BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY”. Dolly sings a great song, but it has been directed to be almost a dream sequence as the band members dance around in their grey/blue body suits – as if they had escaped from a Bob Fosse piece. It didn’t work for either Wilma or me.

This show opened the night before, so there were still a few technical slipups – the first word of some of the songs and dialogues were missed as the sound operator missed several cues, leaving the audience not hearing the first words of such instances. The lighting was fine and the sets were moved quickly within the context of the show, so there was no time lost for set changes.

On that personal note: Wilma and I were married in 1983 – and we honeymooned in Bemidji, where we took in a play at the PAUL BUNYAN PLAYHOUSE. The show? THE MATCHMAKER by Thornton Wilder, which I mentioned is the basis for HELLO DOLLY. And in that version those 31 years ago, the part of Dolly was played by – well, yes – Michelle Barber! Wilma and I remember her fondly for that part, and it was fun to find her doing THIS Dolly.

A good time at Chanhassen for DOLLY and her audience.

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