‘Hello, Dolly!’ coming to Boca Grande this week

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BY BOOTS TOLSDORF – It occurs to me that everyone loves a musical. What is not to like? It’s a great marriage between story and song, where songs advance the plot, the plot deepens the characters, the characters fall in love, and all live happily ever after. Well, almost. West Side Story can make us cry, as can Les Miz. But we still leave the theatre humming the main tune, and with a skip in our step.

You will feel this way with Royal Palm Players’ latest contribution to our fantasy world, “Hello, Dolly!”

Notice the playbill when you go: more than 28 show members, Director Todd Patterson, three producers, Executive Producer Kimberly Whipple and co-producers Dan Headington and Bill Whitney (also our veteran drummer). Mary Jeanne Mooman (our incredible pianist), two stage managers, a props committee, an acting coach, Sally Johnson. A choreographer, Chris Lee; a sound man; our lighting and tech vet, Alex Newberry; set design artists and a partridge in a pear tree. Strike the last one – just wanted to see if you were paying attention. In other words, there is a HUGE cast of players who are involved in putting on this elaborate, well- rehearsed production that will, for a couple of hours, transport you into an imaginary world that will make you just feel good! As they say, “It takes a village!” And a more dedicated and passionnate group of Boca Grande’s finest players you won’t find!

I’m not going into the storyline here, because (1) you probably know it, (2) you can find it on Wikipedia if you don’t know it, and (3) it takes too much space in the paper. I would rather whet your appetite with the amateur, but seemingly professional talent in this production.

When Alice Court arrived on our stage, there was no question that she could make Dolly come alive with just the right amount of brass, comedy and voice. She plays a meddlesome widow who is the quintessential matchmaker for everyone, including herself. Jim Sullivan, a very recognizable Boca Grande actor, plays a gruff, set-in-his-ways Horace Vandergelder, the well-known half-millionaire owner of a feed store and a person of interest for Dolly. She would like to match herself with Horace, but she looks for a sign from her deceased husband that it is all right if she “moves on.” Another stage landmark is Linda Rollyson, cast as Irene, the owner of a hat shop. She is also widowed, smart, fun, and is yearning for romance. Linda adds the right amount of contrast to Dolly; her sweetness is delightful. Irene’s assistant in the hat shop is Carol Forrester, in the role of Minnie, who is cast perfectly in her first big venture as a naive, straight-laced, fresh-as-a-daisy follower. Lynda Grant, also taking to the stage, plays Ermengarde, a whining, high-strung woman who desperately wants to marry Ambrose and is independent enough to pull it off. Elaine Skypala, who was also cast recently in “Moon Over Buffalo,” plays Ernestina, who is in the market for a man. Elaine is always delightful to watch on stage. Another newcomer is Carol Elwood, who takes on the role of Mrs. Rose, a friend of Dolly’s from years before. We welcome her.

Before I go onto the other men’s leads, I have to tell you that a new addition has come to our musical: tap dancing from the islanders who have taken up this difficult dance routine. They are, in a word, “fabulous!” As are the costumes. They are knockout gorgeous.

Jeff Lehrian, recognizable from “Oklahoma” and “Red Hot and Cole,” is Cornelius, the head clerk at Vandergelder’s feed store. Cornelius yearns for a day in the Big Apple! Anything to get him out into the world and to kiss a girl. He is an energetic, enthusiastic and adventurous soul and pals around with Barnaby, played by Ross Witschonke, a great baritone who is playing a young man about the age of 17. Can I say that might be a stretch? Not with Ross’s face. Barnaby is the total opposite to Cornelius. He is naive and a follower, so these two get into some hilarious situations.

Hal McCombs, a person also familiar to our stage, is Ambrose, a struggling artist. Good-natured, he is very accommodating and wants to be together with Ermengarde as much as she desires him. He has a good comic flair, and he and Lynda are fun to watch together.

One of the funniest scenes is the waiter scene that occurs at the restaurant Harmonius Gardens in New York City. Choreographer Chris Lee does a great job with all the routines, and this one is no exception. Besides that, it is hilarious.

“Hello, Dolly!” is a brassy, bold and often sweet musical with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. It is based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce, “The Merchant of Yonkers,” which Wilder revised and retitled as “The Matchmaker” in 1955.

First produced on Broadway by David Merrick in 1964, with Carol Channing, it won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a record held for 35 years. “The Producers” broke the record in 2001 with 12 Tonys. The show has become one of the most enduring musical theatre hits, enjoying three Broadway revivals and international success. The original recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001. One of the revivals was an all-black cast in 1967, starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway and even a young Morgan Freeman. Other “Dolly’s” have been Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye and Betty Grable.

I remember my mom for years taking me to every musical that came to the Valley Forge Music Fair, a blue- and-white-striped tent in the round that opened in Devon, Pa. in 1955 at the height of musicals. There I saw and fell in love with such enduring successes as “South Pacific,” “Call Me Madam,” “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “Brigadoon,” “Kiss Me Kate,” and my personal favorite, “Guys and Dolls.” Didn’t we all? The world of these stories transports us, entertains us, charms us, makes us laugh and cry.

In the end, of course, like feel-good musicals should, Dolly weaves a succesful web of romantic complications, and eventually all is sorted out, everyone ending up with the right person.

You might enter the Community Theater with life’s large and small worries and frustrations on your mind.   But for a little while you will be transported into an imaginary world with energetic and fun song and dance numbers that will soothe your heart.

This fantastic and hard-working cast is offering you their energy six times! Yes, “Oklahoma” added a fifth performance to accommodate more theatre goers. Because of your support we are adding a sixth! Catch them March 9, 10, 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. and March 13 at both 1 and 5 p.m. I guarantee you will be glad you did.