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Review - Hello Dolly at the Raven Theater – Healdsburg – by Harry Duke


Review - Hello Dolly at the Raven Theater – Healdsburg – by Harry Duke

In the dark days before the advent of such social apps as, and Tinder, if a marriage-minded gentleman sought an introduction to a marriage-minded lady, he would engage the services of a matchmaker – a person who arranges relationships and marriages between others as a formal occupation. Matchmaking has long been a prominent plot device in literature and theatre. Often a subplot, like Yenta’s activities in Fiddler on the Roof, American musical theatre’s most beloved matchmaker is Dolly Gallagher Levi, the titular character in Hello, Dolly!, the Raven Players’ latest production now running at the Raven Theatre in Healdsburg.

Dolly (Tina Lloyd Meals) has been engaged by Yonkers, NY businessman Horace Vandergelder (Steven Kent Barker) to find him a suitable wife. (You know, the kind that cooks and cleans.)  Ah, but Dolly’s got her sights set on him for herself. With various machinations in play involving Vandergelder’s daughter Ermengarde (Nicole Thordsen) and her true love Ambrose Kemper (William K. Schlosser) as well as a couple of Vandergelder’s store clerks (J. D. Gordon, Sasha Guleff) and a New York milliner (Nora Summers) and her assistant (Melany Katz), you just know a bunch of people are going to end up with a bunch of other people and all will be well in about two hours.

Tina Lloyd Meals and the cast of Hello Dolly

Hello, Dolly! is one of the best known and most beloved American musicals, and director Joe Gellura and the Raven Players don’t disappoint.  What it may lack in production values and technical elements (which may have to do with the limitations of the space, or budget, or both) is more than made up for by the talent on-stage. Ms. Lloyd Meals is a perfect choice for Dolly, both in voice and character, though the ‘New York accent’ does seem to come and go on occasion. Mr. Barker, after a 30 year absence from musical theatre, more than holds his own with the talented Ms. Meals. With a strong voice and stage presence, his Vandergelder is a good foil to Ms. Meals’s Dolly and their “cat and mouse” relationship is fun.  Mr. Barker shouldn’t wait another 30 years to take the stage.

As with most community theatre productions of this nature, there’s a large supporting cast of seasoned veterans and relative newcomers to the stage. Gellura’s done a good job of casting here as well, with Mr. Gordon, Ms. Summers, Ms. Thordsen, and Ms. Katz in good voice and providing some delightful character work. The standout among this talented supporting group was Sasha Guleff, who is absolutely charming in the role of Barnaby Tucker, Vandergelder’s junior clerk. Set free in New York City for a day, Guleff injects his character with an infectious energy that is the very definition of “a kid in a candy store” and dances with reckless abandon and joy.

Musical director Les Pfutzenreuter and a 13 piece orchestra handle the Jerry Herman score well, though the tempo could have been picked up a bit throughout the show. Act I ran a quick 65 minutes, though it felt longer with some of the musical numbers dragging a bit. Choreography was handled by Joseph Favalora, who also performed as the principal dancer.  Again, limitations of the space (and of experienced dancers) may have led to limited choreography, with a whole lot of parading going on (as, of course, the script occasionally necessitates, particularly in “Before the Parade Passes By”).

Where the musical and dance elements really came together well was in the title production number. If they know nothing else from the score, you know audiences are just waiting for “Hello, Dolly!” and the orchestra and ensemble really deliver. An assist should go to Costume Designer Kathy Dingman-Katz and her team of costume builders for really adding some color and character to this endeavor.

There’s a reason Hello, Dolly! has endured and become a staple of community theatre. Take the basic theme that there’s someone out there for everyone, combine it with a sometimes wistful, sometimes whimsical score, have it delivered by top-notch local talent in the leads surrounded by good supporting character work, and you have the makings of a very pleasant evening of live musical theatre.

And it is.

Hello, Dolly! Presented by the Raven Players

through July 12

Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 2pm

No July 4 Performance

Raven Theater Healdsburg
115 North Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Photos courtesy of the Raven Players