MY WEEK (November 20, 2014): HAODS back in brighter territory with Hello, Dolly!

Becky Munden as Dolly Levi
Becky Munden as Dolly Levi

Hello, Dolly! HAODS, The Capitol, Horsham, November 12

It’s been a few months since HAODS trod an unusually dark path with the excellent Sweeney Todd and now the am-dram group has returned to bright and sunny territory with Hello, Dolly!

The show, by Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman, is a relentlessly positive and lively musical, complete with cheery characters, rousing songs and vibrant costumes.

The story takes place in turn-of-the-century New York and revolves around Dolly Gallagher Levi, a kind-hearted and self-confident woman who “meddles” in people’s lives to create positive outcomes. Her aim is to marry half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, who owns a hay and feed store in Yonkers, so she can share his money among the people.

Meanwhile, two clerks from this store – Cornelius and Barnaby – decide to skip work and have some fun in New York City. They pretend to be rich and end up on a double-date with Irene Molloy, a hat shop owner and potential wife for Horace, and her assistant Minnie. A young couple, the artist Ambrose Kemper and Horace’s niece Ermengarde, also head to New York to try to win Horace’s blessing for their marriage.

It’s a comically complicated situation that becomes even more chaotic when all the characters end up dining at the same zany restaurant.

Kevin Summers is strong as Horace Vandergelder, presenting an uptight but ultimately likeable man who never seems to lose his sense of dignity, even when being messed about by Dolly’s schemes.

Chris Dale is very funny (once again) as Cornelius, the optimistic and clumsy young clerk who falls for Irene Molloy (played by the adept Lisa Falkner). Cameron Rowell is also on good form as Cornelius’s clueless co-worker Barnaby. Both Chris and Cameron get big laughs from an absurd scene where Cornelius and Barnaby try to hide from Horace in Irene’s shop.

Chris Hampton (the struggling Ambrose), Alice Attfield (the weepy Ermengarde) and Jane O’Sullivan (the brash Ernestina Money) complete the ensemble nicely with suitably loopy performances.

Special mention has to go to Rebecca Walker, who does a great job as the naïve Minnie, impressively performing with an American accent in what is only her second show with HAODS.

However, it’s Becky Munden who gives the production’s strongest performance as Dolly. She shows remarkable control with her lovely singing voice and she delivers every line smoothly and elegantly despite some tricky dialogue. She also creates an effective sense of her character’s underlying sadness when Dolly talks to her departed husband Ephraim.

Sombre moments are mild and rare though, thanks to director Barrie Ward, musical director Mags Fisher and choreographer Jackie Shepherd.