Dolly Levi, matchmaker and self-proclaimed circumventer of any obstacle in the way of a potential love match, is a BIG personality. So big that none of the “matchees” in her sphere of influence is even remotely as interesting. When Dolly’s not on stage, the void is a Broadway-sized one. Her name’s in the title of the show, for crying out loud.
But then you knew all that. Hello, Dolly! has been entertaining theater audiences since 1964, and if the current production at Welk Resort Theatre directed by Ray Limon is any indication, Dolly shows no signs of slowing down. Hell, the famous title song which goes “Dolly’ll never go away again” seems misguided. She’s never been away
The Welk’s Dolly, bursting with life thanks to Cynthia Ferrer, reigns over this production, bestowing all the requisite heart and laughter in Michael Stewart’s book (based on Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker) and Jerry Herman’s songs. She and the rest of the sizable cast also radiate from the stage in gaily colored period costumes designed by Janet Pitcher. While the Welk stage is small for a show of this scale and its Hello, Dolly! sets are just adequate, the actors – from Dolly on down to the high-stepping waiters at the Harmonia Gardens, look simply mahvelous.
Even if you’ve never seen Hello, Dolly! you won’t be in great suspense about what will happen in the story, in particular whether Dolly will end up with the “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (Randy Doney) she aims to match herself with. Even less in doubt is what fate awaits the other sets of sweethearts, which include the fabulous Charlene Koepf in the role of hat shop owner Irene Molloy. But the spirit of this unfailingly agreeable show, inherent in not only those 1890s threads but in the oft-eye-popping choreography, prevails. “Quaint” only begins to describe the feeling of this grand dame musical, which by the standards of 2015 theater could be regarded as a relic. But that would be doing a disservice to the classic character of Dolly herself, who’ll probably be around if there’s theater to go to in 3015.
So, returning to that line from the signature title tune, subtract the “again” and what you’re left with is “Dolly’ll never go away.”
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat