Whew! For a few months there, I was truly concerned that the Show Palace Dinner Theatre had lost its bearings.
Three weak shows in a row — good actors, cast and crew, but unappealing productions — and a couple of mediocre buffet dinners (to be fair, the price was slashed nearly 30 percent for the last two) had me wondering if this big ol' ship could right itself.
Well, I'm here to say that opening night of the beloved musical Hello, Dolly! forecasts blue skies and smooth sailing for the 15-year-old venue.
(Okay, enough of that metaphor; on with the review.)
Great credit goes to Jill Godfrey, who cast, directed, choreographed, stage managed and even ran the light board — five big jobs usually done by five different people — and did them to perfection. What a treasure.
Director Godfrey's refreshing vision turns this classic show from a star vehicle for the title character into a pleasing ensemble piece that showcases the impressive talents of this 20-member cast, while still giving the widowed Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi her due as the preeminent turn-of-the- 20th century matchmaker in New York City and environs.
And such a Dolly singer/actor Nicole Dominguez is — not brassy and bold, but beautiful and soft, gently nudging her clients toward love and matrimony and silkenly offering her services for everything from dance instructor to varicose vein treater to legal counsel. Ms. Dominguez's voice is clear and sweet, not a booming belt, just right for this interpretation of Dolly.
Christoff Marse's take on Dolly's main client (and marital target for herself), the half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, is delightfully comic, befitting his relatively slight stature and build. He blusters, but he doesn't boom. Marse's Vandergelder isn't a heartless tyrant, but a slightly befuddled businessman whose good humor bubbles through, even as he shouts and protests. This makes his change of heart near the end all the more believable and pleasing.
The supporting players are stellar: Thomas Hogan's eye-popping athletics as young store clerk Barnaby Tucker; Regan McLellan's terrific voice as chief store clerk Cornelius Hackle; Heather Baird's grace and voice as milliner Irene Malloy; Caitlin Longstreet's perky charm as Irene's assistant Minnie Fay; Millicent Hunnicutt's over-the-top crassness as marital prospect Ernestina Money; Kevin Korczynski's exuberance as artist Ambrose Kemper, as he pursues Vandergelder's weepy niece Ermengarde (Sarah Mitchel); and a 12-member singing, dancing ensemble that adds spectacle and color to every scene.
The ongoing Waiter's Gallop showcasing head waiter Rudolph (Troy Lafon) and the waiters (Nicole Cavalani, Bo Price, Nick Rishel, Michael Place, Andi Sperduti, Patrick Marshall, Casey Hicks, Alexus Nagy, Kate O'Connell and Ashley Rubin) elicited rounds of applause for its vigorous gymnastics, split-second timing, and sure-footed moves. The stage extension theater added by owners Vicki and Tommy Mara give the dancers room to romp. Tom Hansen's gorgeous backdrops, sets and light are, as always, marvelous. And Darlene Widner's costumes are gorgeous.
There's also good news from the other half of the evening, namely the buffet dinner, which on opening night was as tasty and fresh as any executive chefs Dinah Teaford and Rick Dargie have ever done, receiving well-deserved cheers from the patrons. The standing roast at the carving station was prepared to suit every preference — rare, medium or well done. The veggies were cooked just right, the nicely seasoned, bone-in chicken welcomed by those of us who prefer dark meat, as well as the white meat lovers, scrumptious mashed skin-on red potatoes, flavorful sausage, peppers and onions, plus fish and a choice of toppings. The salad bar had many fresh offerings, though many of us still miss Ms. Teaford's unique three-potato salad.
To borrow a phrase the waiters sing to Dolly at Harmonia Gardens in the title song, Hello, Dolly, it's nice to have the Show Palace back where it belongs.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: The adult price for dinner and show is $49.50.