NEWS BLOG (WSAU) For the older-crowd that struggled to get through “Rent” last season, Wausau Community Theater presents “Hello, Dolly!”.
It’s the younger-crowd’s turn to struggle. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of a matchmaker, or why traveling from Yonkers to Manhattan was a big deal in 1905, or why widows needed to find someone, anyone to get re-married to, the entire theme of this sugary-sweet musical may pass them by.
My first introduction to Hello, Dolly! was the song… a trumpet-playing Louis Armstrong went to the top of the charts in 1964. It was the song that gave us a break from the Beatles that summer; the one song that wasn’t swamped by the British Invasion. Back then WABC radio in New York played the top song on their hit parade every 55-minutes, and my father had his fill of Hello, Dolly! by the end of the year. It was the same year Hello, Dolly! appeared on Broadway, winning that year’s Tony Award for best musical.
Hello, Dolly! is this year’s big musical production for WCT. It’s an odd choice. The show is cheery. It has the look and feel of one of the manufactured musicals of the 50s where some of the songs were written years earlier just waiting for a script to plug them into. It’s also one of those shows that marks the end of the poofy-skirt, demure women and dashing-leading men musicals. A few years after Hello, Dolly! we’ll be turning the page to rock musicals and more avant-garde theater. This show feels closer to Oklahoma!, The Music Man, and Showboat – and doesn’t wear its age as well. And on the timeline she’s closer to Company, Candide, and A Chorus Line.
The four strongest performances in the Wausau Community Theater production are all from supporting actors. Dan Drenk (as Cornelius) and Scott Atkinson (as Barnaby) are a great comic relief pair – and their strengths compliment each other. Drenk is the straight-man in the Cornelius-Barnaby give-and-take. He has an affable look about him, and is a good singer. Atkinson is a strong dancer and physical actor. Molly Gums is charming as Minnie, the female sidekick. She’s very comfortable on stage, especially in her brief monologues. The best singer in the cast, by far, is Bethany Schwartz. She played Maria in last years The Sound Of Music, and we would be cheated if she’s not cast as a leading-lady again soon. She’d be an outstanding Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady or Fiona MacLaren in Brigadoon.
But for Hello Dolly! to be really good, we need a really good Dolly. Kelly Schoonaert looks the part perfectly. She’s convincing when she’s talking to her late husband. But in my mind’s eye, Dolly as to be a belter. It takes an over-the-top singer with an almost-reckless whirlwind style to convince me that Dolly is living her life as-it-comes one-day-at-a-time. Schoonaert is more subdued. Bradley Ruckwardt, as Horace Vandergelder, is a solid leading man. The only drawback in his performance is that he has a naturally friendly-sounding voice. It’s hard to imagine him as a meany who needs to be transformed.
This has been an unusual season for Wausau Community Theater. The Dairy of Anne Frank has been the strongest play of the season – but it’s subject matter is hard to enjoy. Pirates of Penzance is so far in the past that it’s almost hard to translate. I think Smokey Joe’s Café will be the most entertaining show of the season. It’s a musical revival that’s usually performed with a black cast that will be staged in June. I’m looking forward to it.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
Additional performances of Hello, Dolly at the Grand Theater in Wausau on Friday 7:30pm, Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 2pm.