Community theater breathes new life into Broadway classic

Sunday, June 10, 2001

When a small community theater takes on a big Broadway musical, it takes a risk: While the show and its songs are so familiar the audience will be humming along, the theater must stage the show in a way that's fresh enough to make theater-goers feel like it was worth their time and money.

Such it is with Lawrence Community Theatre's 2 1/2-hour production of "Hello, Dolly!," which opened Friday night to a capacity crowd and a standing ovation.

Based on "The Matchmaker" by Thornton Wilder, the musical follows Dolly Levi (Annette Cook), a widow who "arranges lives," as she sets out to pair up residents of Yonkers and New York City. Of course, she has her eye on her own future husband: Horace Vandergelder (Charles Whitman), a stingy grouse who wears plaids with stripes.

Vandergelder's clerks � Cornelius Hackl (Ryan Hamlin) and Barnaby Tucker (Philip Denton) � are matched with Irene Molloy (Becky Ford O'Keefe) and Minnie Fay (Mia Goldsmith). Vandergelder's daughter, Ermengarde (Summer Eglinski), is paired with Ambrose Kemper (Brenton McCall). By musical's end, it's an 1890s-style lovefest.

Of the cast, the standouts are Cook, who plays the spunky, quirky Dolly to the hilt, and Hamlin, whose acting and singing have matured brilliantly over the 10 shows he's done at the theater.

Other highlights: The gorgeous costumes � particularly the period hats and evening gowns � designed by Cynthia Evans-Dahlberg; the "Waiters' Gallop," where six waiters hurriedly deliver and remove food from the tables in superb comic style; "Motherhood March," where Cornelius and Barnaby try to hide in and under furniture; the nine-piece orchestra under the direction of Nancy Goodall; and scenic designer Jack Riegle's innovative folding-panel backdrops.

"Hello, Dolly!," under the direction of Mary Doveton, continues through July 1 at the theater, 1501 N.H. It's a show where the whole cast is obviously having fun and you'll want to join in.