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Theater Review: “Hello, Dolly!” at Ford’s Theatre

Eric Schaeffer’s revival shines but lacks the full punch of star power.

Nancy Opel as Dolly with the cast of the Ford’s Theatre and Signature Theatre co-production of Hello, Dolly! Photograph by Carol Rosegg.

When Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway in 1964, Carol Channing entered stage right, doffed her enormous turn-of-the-century hat, flashed her enormous grin, and—before she’d even handed out a single one of her ridiculous, ubiquitous business cards—stole the show.

Channing’s Dolly Gallagher Levi was a matchless matchmaker. We loved her on sight. It might take two hours for the miserly millionaire Horace Vandergelder to succumb to her wiles, but the audience enjoyed the chase almost as much as Channing did.

Signature Theatre artistic director Eric Schaeffer has brought Dolly back to Ford’s Theatre in this joint production, and hired Broadway veteran Nancy Opel (a Tony Award nominee for her role in Urinetown) to play the title role. Schaeffer has a sure hand with musical revivals, and this is no exception. The period costumes by Wade Laboissonniere are perfect, the set by Adam Koch delightful, the pace sprightly. Choreographer Karma Camp provides some of the evening’s best moments with her athletic and appealing dance numbers. We would gladly have ordered another number from her dancing waiters.

Opel does her darndest to sparkle, wheedle, and warble her way into our hearts—but she doesn’t quite make it. Washington stalwart Edward Gero makes a credible Vandergelder, but there is no chemistry between the two. Tracy Lynn Olivera’s beautiful voice, showcased in “Ribbons Down My Back,” can’t make up for the miscasting that matches her with Vandergelder’s clerk Cornelius Hackl (Gregory Maheu).

Hello, Dolly! is a family-friendly musical revival with terrific costumes and choreography. But it’s a star vehicle that needs a dazzling Dolly, and this star merely twinkles.

Hello, Dolly!, a co-production with Signature Theatre, is at Ford’s Theatre through May 18. Running time is about two hours, with one intermission. Tickets ($25 to $77) are available via Ford’s Theatre’s website.

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