It Takes a Woman
“Isn’t the world full of wonderful things?” gushes Cornelius Hackl during his lovely, romantic ballad, “It Only Takes a Moment.” It’s this wide-eyed wonder and unbridled joie de vivre that Jerry Herman celebrates in this buoyant, bon bon of a musical. The story pays tribute to all the adventures we experience, both simple and great. It wallows in every wonderful moment that life has to offer. It’s also a tribute to the effervescence of love that makes the world go round.
Returning to once again to the Marriott Theatre, two-time Tony Award-nominated Denis Jones has both directed and choreographed this production. He’s guided this scrumptious theatrical cream puff at a time when Chicagoland needs this show the most. Back in 1964 Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Michael Stewart (book) crafted this bright, jubilant ten-time Tony Award-winning confection, based on Thornton Wilder’s heartwarming comedy, “The Matchmaker.” That original production starred the incomparable Carol Channing and has become one of the most enduring hit musicals of all time.
The feisty, fetching, fun-loving Dolly Gallagher Levi went on to be played several more times by Ms. Channing in subsequent revivals. She was then portrayed by Mary Martin (in London), Barbra Streisand (in the 1969 film version), Pearl Bailey (in a 1975 all African-American production), the divine Bette Midler (in a Tony Award-winning 2017 Broadway revival), and succeeded by Bernadette Peters. Then Broadway star Betty Buckley headlined the National Tour of the revival, which played Chicago just before the pandemic hit. All of these fine musical actresses, as well as countless others, have delighted audiences with this romantic tale about Dolly Levi, a lovable fairy godmother who makes everything possible, including happy endings.
Set in turn-of-the-century Yonkers and New York City, this musical classic sends three unhappy couples on an amusingly, complicated journey to romantic bliss. Mr. Jones’ production at the Marriott is, first and foremost, a treat for the eyes and ears. Jeffrey D. Kmiec has designed the most gorgeous sets and decor for the arena stage that create a fanciful, nostalgic world. Always topping himself, Kmiec’s scenic designs are never short on spectacle. At one point, an entire passenger-filled train chugs across the stage during “Put On Your Sunday Clothes.” Theresa Ham’s lovely, pastel fin de siecle costumes are rich and fashionable, allowing for all the sweep and movement of Denis Jones’ athletic, gravity-defying choreography. Featuring giant feathered hats and swirling gowns with bustles, top hats, tailored vests and frock coats, the stage becomes a kaleidoscope of color and movement. Ryan T. Nelson guides the spot-on musical direction for his full-voiced 24-member cast, and maestro Brad Haak conducts his full, rich-sounding 9-member pit orchestra to perfection.
Appearing in her 25th production at the Marriott Theatre, Jeff Award-winning actress and Chicago favorite Heidi Kettenring graces the arena stage. She puts her own indelible stamp on the role of Dolly Levi. Wringing every ounce of comedy and heart from this role, Ms Kettenring brings a kindly mature, sometimes impish approach to the role. Seeming inspired by Thornton Wilder’s original character in his “The Matchmaker,” Heidi’s portrayal brings to mind that favorite aunt or schoolteacher we’ve all known and loved in our lifetime. She charmingly makes every line and lyric, each ditty and dance step a special moment. With that beautiful, velvety vocal quality that seems made for this role, Heidi Kettenring reminds us why she’s a great star of the Chicago theatre scene.
Ms Kettenring is wonderfully paired with gifted veteran character actor David Girolmo, playing widower Horace Vandergelder, “the well known half-millionaire.” Their great chemistry onstage may lie in the fact that Heidi and David are real-life man and wife! Snapping and growling his way through the play, Mr. Girolmo provides an abundance of curmudgeonly charm as he maneuvers his way around the “99% of the world that are fools.” He sparkles in “It Takes a Woman;” and he deftly plays every scene with an honest sincerity that gives Vandergelder the care and gentility that probably attracted Dolly Levi.
Fetching, fiery Rebecca Hurd plays liberal-thinking millinery shop owner, Irene Molloy. This extremely lovely and likable actress brings grace, beauty and an unmatched vocal talent to this role. Alex Goodrich, who may be remembered from the Marriott’s productions of “She Loves Me,” “Something Rotten” and “Elf: the Musical,” does a spectacular job portraying Vandergelder’s head clerk, Cornelius Hackl. While coping with his character’s insecurity with women, Alex demonstrates his stellar vocal and comedic talents. Without question, however, the surprising standouts in this show are Spencer Davis Milford, as Barnaby Tucker, and the adorable Amanda Walker, as Minnie Fay. These two powerhouses are not only well-paired in their talent, but their romantic chemistry feels as honest as their singing/dancing skills and sparkling personalities.
The hard-working ensemble is filled with some of Chicago musical theatre’s finest triple threats, including Johanna McKenzie Miller as Ernestina Money, Emily Ann Brooks as weepy Ermengarde, Michael Turrentine as handsome artist Ambrose Kemper and George Keating as the fastidious Harmonia Gardens maitre d’, Rudolph. And a buffet of praise goes to the brilliantly gifted dancers who treat the audience to Denis Jones’ robust and challenging “Waiter’s Gallop,” a choreographed ballet that effortlessly segues into the musical’s show-stopper, “Hello, Dolly.”
Despite having had to postpone their original opening night, due to some never-ending Covid infections, the show has, indeed, gone on. Chicagoland has a wonderful, carefree musical comedy that’s practically perfect in every way. Audiences coming to the theatre may be laden with problems and and predicaments. But in this show they can find a tuneful respite to their troubles. It’s a musical comedy that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to every theatergoer’s face, while setting their feet a-tapping. Denis Jones’ opulent, production overflows with talent, humor, color, spectacle and a leading lady who was born to play Dolly, Jerry Herman’s happiest musical.