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Hello, Heidi: Marriott’s ‘Dolly’ cast is back where they belong

We may be nearing endemic times, but musical theatre patrons need look no further than Lincolnshire to see that COVID-19 is still inserting an unwanted set of bagpipes into our orchestra pits.

Delayed from its expected opening by a couple weeks due to a cast breakout infection, Marriott Theatre’s resplendent Hello Dolly! revival with regional icon Heidi Kettenring at its helm is open—with the promise to delight audiences through Oct. 16.

But one may only be delighted by this lovely production if he/she/they shows up—and shows up with some energy.

A disappointing, 2/3-filled, opening weekend Saturday night crowd, most in need of a Red Bull, largely gave nothing back to the always top-notch Marriott cast and crew working their way through a more comedically-infused Dolly than typical. In particular, Kettenring as the professionally versatile, always matchmaking Dolly Gallagher Levi performs a hilarious food orgasm soliloquy in Act 2 that would make Meg Ryan blush. (Those needing confirmation of the reference can find it here.)      

Dolly’s typical resplendence is seen mostly in Theresa Ham’s gorgeous costumes. Music Director Ryan T. Nelson and Conductor Brad Haak’s melodic contributions are first-rate. The work of two-time Tony nominee, Director Denis Jones, is shown off with near-perfect comedic timing among the principals—Kettenring, David Girolmo as Horace Vandergelder, Alex Goodrich as Cornelius Hackl, Spencer Davis Milford as Barnaby Tucker, Rebecca Hurd as Irene Malloy and Amanda Walker as Minnie Fay. Throughout the production, character singing is top-notch, with solo vocals from Kettenring and Hurd offering special highlights. Choreographer Jones’ talents are best illustrated by his large cast of triple threats (led by Dance Captain Laura Savage) in the numbers, “Put on Your Sunday Cloths” and “Before the Parade Passes By,” along with the terrific “Waiters’ Gallop” and “Hello Dolly” at Harmonia Gardens.

The old-fashioned musical is based on Thornton Wilder's 1955 play The Matchmaker, featuring music and lyrics by Jerry Herman with a book by Michael Stewart. Its history of signature Broadway productions and leading ladies include 1964 (Carol Channing), 1975 (Pearl Bailey), 1995 (Channing reprise) and 2017 (Bette Midler replaced by Bernadette Peters). In all, Dolly has won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and its 1969 film version (Barbara Streisand) was nominated for seven Academy Awards. A full history and synopsis may be found here. The most recent national tour, began in 2018 and cut short by COVID-19, starred Betty Buckley. Marriott cast member Ian Liberto, a Libertyville native, understudied Gavin Creel as Cornelius Hackl on Broadway and performed in the tour.

The imploration to patrons here is to do your part. Those paying any attention realize that that the number of Chicagoland musical theatre productions has in no way returned to pre-pandemic levels. That, on the heels of a two-year forced furlough, is problematic for all those who work in an industry where it’s already hard enough to sustain careers.

Chicagoland musical theatre is a community, and arguably, patrons as a collective have the most significant role to play. So, with a little gusto, wearing ribbons down your backs if you like, march, gallop or polka to Lincolnshire’s Harmonia Gardens to say hello to this Dolly … and hope beyond hope she’ll never go away again.