Good Golly, Miss Dolly!

Though its likely to result in instant revocation of my gay card, I have a confession to make: I’ve never seen ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Not in its many incarnations with Carol Channing over the years, not in the film version with Barbra Streisand, not in any local production or revival. It’s a pretty big deal according to some folks on FaceBook. Fortunately, thanks to the musical theatrical gods of Cohoes Music Hall, that was rectified last night, and in gloriously fine fashion.‏

Under the elegant yet riotous direction of Jim Charles, this Dolly is a deft and classy version of the venerable work, and the perfect introduction for Dolly virgins like myself. Mr. Charles knows his golden-touched way around a classical musical, giving the show the giddy, airy flight it needs while grounding it with subtle moments of regret and wistful reminiscence. Central to its success is the winning performance of Monica M. Wemitt as masterful meddler Dolly Levi.

Ms. Wemitt is a sly, comedic goddess, with a voice as rich and smooth as butter, and the regal deportment to carry off every colorfully brazen costume without missing a step. Not having seen any other version of the show, I can’t imagine anyone else doing this role justice – not even the great Carol Channing (whose prime performances were before my time). Ms. Wemitt moves from meddlesome to moving, manipulative to magic-making, and wins over every audience member as if she were singing only to them. Her moments with a meal at Harmonia Gardens rank with the most hilarious in musical comedy, and she manages to accomplish this without singing a single note (which would have proven impossible with all those feather-light dumplings anyway).

Matching her talent with equally-impressive vocal chops is Peyton Thomas Tucker as Cornelius Hackl. Though it’s a bit of a one-note character, Mr. Tucker adds the right nuances at the right moments, and reveals a gorgeous dulcet tone that still somehow carries to the highest rafters of the house.

With its athletic troupe of dancers that seem to defy both gravity and physics executing the choreography of Michele Tibbitts, the always-expert orchestra, this time led by Nolan Bonvouloir, and the eye-popping costumes of Jimm Halliday (Hello, Millinery!), the show dazzles and soars, ultimately bringing the audience to its feet.

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