5 reasons to see ‘Hello, Dolly!’ at Dayton Playhouse

Tina McPhearson (appearing with ensemble members as waiters of the Harmonia Gardens restaurant) stars as Dolly Levi in the Dayton Playhouse's production of "Hello, Dolly!" PHOTO BY RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

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Tina McPhearson (appearing with ensemble members as waiters of the Harmonia Gardens restaurant) stars as Dolly Levi in the Dayton Playhouse's production of "Hello, Dolly!" PHOTO BY RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

Dolly Levi is back and looking swell in the Dayton Playhouse’s delightful production of composer Jerry Herman and librettist Michael Stewart’s classic 1964 musical comedy “Hello, Dolly!,” continuing through May 15.

Based on Thornton Wilder’s 1954 comedy “The Matchmaker,” the musical tells the story of the New York City matchmaker and widow vowing to take successful Yonkers businessman Horace Vangergelder as her next husband. As Dolly sets her mission into motion over the course of one momentous day, love, hope and optimism blooms among those fortunate to be in her meddlesome path.

Here are five reasons why you should see this feel-good showcase, breezily directed with audience-friendly engagement by Brian Sharp and featuring fabulous turn-of-the-century costumes by Theresa Kahle, Anne Potter and John Faas.

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Tina McPhearson stars as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Dayton Playhouse's production of "Hello, Dolly!"

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Tina McPhearson stars as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Dayton Playhouse's production of "Hello, Dolly!"

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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Tina McPhearson stars as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Dayton Playhouse's production of "Hello, Dolly!"

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Tina McPhearson portrays Dolly with humor and heart

Tina McPhearson brings effortless ease to the comedy, wit, determination, and reflection required to convey Dolly’s aims to the hilt. Musically, she delivers “Before the Parade Passes By” as the uplifting epiphany it was written to be, but she also peppers “So Long, Dearie” with playful sass and brings supportive, motherly grace to “Dancing,” which is intimately reserved for only the principal players here. Most significantly are her marvelous asides in which Dolly addresses her late husband, Ephraim. The unrushed poignancy she brings to those moments are a hallmark of her winning portrayal.

Ron Maurer embodies Vangergelder to a tee

In his first scene accompanied by Alicia Walton as the emotionally overwhelmed Ermengarde, Ron Maurer doesn’t take very long to inform us Horace Vandergelder is “rich, friendless and mean.” Fittingly, Maurer embodies his role with those three qualities in mind, bellowing – not bulldozing – Horace’s authority with gruff aplomb. He’s particularly strong in Act 2 when Horace becomes agitated over dinner as Dolly’s mind games (and her love of beets) begin to take hold.

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Chris Nelson and Kevin Willardson shine as co-workers daring to dream

As Vandergelder’s faithful employees, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, charming duo Chris Nelson and Kevin Willardson respectively shine. In addition to the pleasure of seeing age-appropriate men in these roles (Cornelius must always be the older and wiser of the two), there is an appealing believability within both that is imperative to understanding the risks Cornelius and Barnaby are willing to take to escape the doldrums of their workplace basement in order to change their world.

Due to Nelson’s convincing delivery of Cornelius’ prophesy that he and Barnaby would go to New York to have a good meal, an adventure, and come home with a girl, “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” immediately escalates into joy and anticipation. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. In Act 2, Nelson warmly brings the audience into Cornelius’ state of mind again with one of the most excellently conversational monologues I have heard within “It Only Takes a Moment.”

As for Willardson, a memorable Jack in the Playhouse’s recent “Into the Woods,” he’s becoming a secret weapon. He has an ability to surprise when you least expect, which serves him well as Barnaby gets caught up in the excitement of the big city, rolls with the punches, and ultimately grows a backbone. Just notice the way he ensures Barnaby demands attention late in Act 2.

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left to right: Krissy McKim-O'Malley (ensemble), Jeffrey Murphy (ensemble) and Tina McPhearson (Dolly Levi) in Dayton Playhouse's production of "Hello, Dolly!" PHOTO BY RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

left to right: Krissy McKim-O'Malley (ensemble), Jeffrey Murphy (ensemble) and Tina McPhearson (Dolly Levi) in Dayton Playhouse's production of "Hello, Dolly!" PHOTO BY RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

caption arrowCaption
left to right: Krissy McKim-O'Malley (ensemble), Jeffrey Murphy (ensemble) and Tina McPhearson (Dolly Levi) in Dayton Playhouse's production of "Hello, Dolly!" PHOTO BY RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: RICK FLYNN PHOTOGRAPHY

Logan Richardson and Hayley Penchoff offer lovely support

While Cornelius and Barnaby prepare to have a ball in the Big Apple, the story shifts to Manhattan milliner Irene Molly and her assistant, Minnie Fay. As Irene, Logan Richardson is sophisticatedly understated and her beautifully introspective rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back,” so private and personal, sweetly soothes. Hayley Penchoff, precise and perky, is an adorably flustered and chatty Minnie Fay, a loyal protector of Irene and her precious assortment of hats. Richardson and Penchoff are respectively well-matched with Nelson and Willardson, humorously evidenced in the aforementioned “Dancing” and toe-tapping Act 2 opener “Elegance,” two of choreographer George Spelvin’s smoothest routines.

The importance of a fully committed ensemble

There are less than 20 people in the ensemble, but the group feels larger because of their committed intent. Sure, it would’ve been nice to see more bodies in “I Put My Hand In,” “Waiters’ Gallop,” “The Polka Contest” and, specifically, the iconic title song (community theaters typically struggle to find men). Even so, the ensemble admirably handles their duties. In addition to Tamar Fishbein as flashy Ernestina, Bryan Schuck as Ambrose, Michael Plaugher as commanding Rudolph, Mark Sharp as the Judge, Donna Bostwick as Mrs. Rose, and standout dancer/waiter Carter Evans, the female voices greatly impress (sopranos, I hear you!) and Jeffrey Murphy’s sunny demeanor, particularly his affectionate grasp of the title song’s reunion reverence, would make Broadway legends David Merrick, Gower Champion, Stewart, and Herman very proud.

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HOW TO GO

What: “Hello, Dolly!”

Where: Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton

When: Through May 15: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays

Cost: $18-$20

Tickets: 937-424-8477 or daytonplayhouse.com

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