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Hello Dolly at Little Theatre of Virginia Beach is a Winner!

Words by Brian Cebrian. Images courtesy of J. Stubbs Photography.

With the classic musical Hello Dolly currently running at Little Theatre of Virginia Beach, Robert Shirley had directed another winner at our beach playhouse.

I went to see the show this past weekend with a vague remembrance of the story. I had never seen a stage production of the show and it has been many years since I watched the 1969 movie with Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau. I was excited to see this production being starved for some live entertainment and past experience with the usual high quality of productions at LTVB. I was not disappointed.

As I said, Mr. Shirley had directed a winner here, and I was delighted to see that he also designed the costumes for the production. They were period appropriate and artistic. Some of the ladies’ dresses were simply beautiful. Notably Dolly’s dress and accessories for the titular “Hello Dolly” number in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant. Dolly literally shines off the stage. The costumes, let alone the number of extravagant ladies’ hats that had to be produced for this show, were impressive. The set by Sandy Lawrence is very well done with multiple double-sided carts and painted curtains that allowed the stage crew to quickly change scenes and locations. The Harmonia Gardens restaurant set is, in a word, gorgeous. Nod to the set build crew who pulled this off.

I was a little disappointed, at first, that the music was canned, I prefer a live band, but I understand why. Live bands are expensive and with how extensive this set is, I have no idea where they would have put one back stage. Anyway, I soon forgot that little detail as the cast worked their magic. Musical Director David Prescott has done a wonderful job weaving the music and story with some very talented singers. The spot-on harmonies of the ensemble were striking and produced some of my favorite moments of the show. The ensemble of this show handles the quick changes, dance numbers, and songs with nary a fault. I do not think I saw a single misstep the entire night. Bravo! The crew helping with the smooth set and costume quick changes backstage deserve an extra cookie in their snack bag for the sheer number and rapidity of changes required to support this production.

Choreographer Karen Buchheim and assistant Choreographer Erin Matteson have done a great job with this show overall with the individual dances, but in particular with some very complex group movement dancing that worked perfectly to the music and vocals.

Karen Buchheim as Dolly Levi is wonderful in the lead role, her dry deliveries of her straight lines drew some of my biggest laughs. Ms. Buchheim impressed me at this performance. I have seen her in several other shows and I have always enjoyed her performances. I have never known her to miss a note. On this particular evening, she was having some trouble with her vocals- I do not know if she was not feeling well or her voice was strained from performing. She missed a note here and there and I could tell she was struggling a bit. However, in true professional manner she stayed with it, stayed in character, and continued to deliver a wonderful performance. Her solo moments speaking to the spirit of her late husband Ephraim are particularly sweet and heartfelt. My hat is off to you Ms. Buchheim.

Regina Rossi is thoroughly entertaining and completely enchanting as Irene Molly. Though there are many great voices in this cast, her’s is the one that stands out. She has, by any measure, a Broadway worthy voice. Her solos are show stoppers. Of Note: I was sitting next to two couples, one middle aged and one elderly. Speaking with them I found out the middle-aged gent is a former Broadway performer with over 100 credits to his name. The elderly gentleman was a retired musician and at one time was Ethel Merman’s conductor. This was their first time at LTVB. When Ms. Rossi began her first song, both looked at each other, nodded and said, “Oh. Yeah!”

Clifford Hoffman as Horace Vandergelder does not disappoint as the crotchety feed store owner and Dolly’s object of affections. He successfully toes the line between making you want to punch him right in the nose or bundle him up and take him home in your pocket. Mr. Hoffman is one of my favorite local actors and here again, he proves why.

Jessica Martinez is delightful as Minnie Fay, Mrs. Molly’s assistant in the hat shop. Her voice and sweet manor as Minnie brought a smile to my face every time she was on stage, not to mention more than a few laughs.

Russell Teague and Coral Mapp are adorable as the somewhat confused and perpetually broke lovers Ambrose Kemper and Ermengarde, Dolly’s original clients.

For me, my favorite performances of the night were from Nick Richardson as Cornelius Hackl and Zack Kattwinkle as Barnaby Tucker, Horace Vandergelder’s woefully underpaid and unappreciated shop clerks. These two high energy lads stole every scene in which they appeared. Wonderful chemistry between these two young men and spot on comedic timing made for a truly terrific night at the theatre. Their portrayal of these two sweet and somewhat naive youths is loaded with laughs and pulled heart strings. You root for these two to win their hearts desires and celebrate with them when they ultimately succeed. Very well-done gentlemen, very well done indeed.

Here’s the bottom line: Robert Shirley and his production team and talented cast have produced a truly enjoyable and delightful show that is worth every penny of the admission price. Oh, the big “Hello Dolly” number in the third act? Let’s just say this cast nails it. Is LTVB’s Hello Dolly perfect? No, but it is so very much fun, so loaded with great voices, beautiful dancing, laughs, and feels that the minor imperfections don’t matter one bit. My two Broadway friends and their wives? They loved it too. Live theater is back! So, get thee to the theatre and don’t miss this one.

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