They are a small but mighty band: With every order and water refill, the waiters at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant leap, scurry, pirouette and stretch muscles most of us probably don’t even know are there.
Or, in this case, these graceful servers welcome Dolly Levi back to her old haunts in the title number of “Hello, Dolly!” It’s one of the great tunes in Broadway history (Jerry Herman wrote the music and lyrics), but my favorite part of this show has always been the “Waiters’ Gallop,” the dance number preceding Dolly’s grand entrance, in which the waitstaff gets to indulge in a bit of choreographic excess.
The new Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater offers six cast members the chance to burn off a lot of calories, and it’s one of the highlights of the show. Jason Danner, Juan Danner, Maci Davis, London Garcia, Mallory Parker and Michael Smith might not be the army of “Dolly” waiters you’ve seen in larger productions, and not all the moves (nicely choreographed by Kaye Migaki) are as technically deft as they could be, but what they lack in numbers they make up in determination. I like the happy work ethic evident in these red-jacketed members of the service industry. Just think of how much cheerier work would be if we all had to dance.
I wish there could have been more of that plucky charm throughout the rest of the show, which on opening night still had some tentative legs.
I’ve long been a fan of Janet Glaudé, whose powerhouse voice and smooth stage presence has anchored many a GCP production over the years. I was looking forward to her interpretation of Dolly, the wise-cracking matchmaker who starts out the play ostensibly trying to set the wealthy Yonkers businessman Horace Vandergelder up with a bride.
I was mildly disappointed. Glaudé (and director Steve Souza) had some trouble crafting a consistent and cohesive Dolly. At times she played this larger-than-life character so softly she almost faded into the background. At others, she offered flashes of brashness that felt disjointed and sometimes even cranky. I wanted more flair and fun from her.
Even her big voice couldn’t save her. Dolly doesn’t need a great voice, after all – Carol Channing could have polished rocks in a tumbler with hers – and the character relies much more on vocal charisma than technique. But Glaudé, who has some amazing chops, seemed out of her comfort zone in terms of her range, often awkwardly having to skip up an octave (too high for her), then occasionally hitting gravelly discomfort when scooping too low.
The good news: In the second act, when Dolly and Horace eat together at the Harmonia Gardens, Glaudé finally began to settle into the character, unleashing her quips with a feisty charm and confidence. I think she’ll find her groove as the run progresses.
Another GCP veteran, Gordon Moore, is charming as Horace. He gives the character a definite nudge into Nervous Nellie territory, which is quite funny. One of Moore’s strengths is his great capacity for comic tics and befuddled double-takes, and he brings all his talents to bear on the role. And for a guy who’s often said he isn’t a singer, his speak-sing vocals are surprisingly tuneful.
The supporting cast has some fine moments. Tim Smith, fresh off a polished performance as a slimy eel in “The Little Mermaid,” is a standout as Cornelius Hackl, the much-put-upon chief clerk who breaks out of his Yonkers routine for a wild trip to New York with his co-worker Barnaby (a fun Marcus Cardenas). Smith gives “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” a scrappy (and nicely voiced) charm.
I was also taken with Abigail Nolte’s Mrs. Molloy, the Manhattan hat-shop owner who is part of Dolly’s master matchmaking plan. Her lovely, slightly smoky voice enlivens “Ribbons Down My Back,” although some of her higher notes later in the show didn’t have the same impact. Kindle Lynn Cowger is another standout as the prim Minnie Fay.
Technical credits are fine, including David Pierce’s tidy set, Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s immaculate period costumes and Andrea Henrickson’s lights.
Still, this production under Souza’s direction never quite reached the GCP level I expect for an opening-weekend performance. It felt like “Hello, Dolly.” Sometimes the exclamation mark makes all the difference.
- Through July 17
- Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave.
- www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-9494