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‘Dolly’ is back in town, but ‘real’ take on iconcic caricature not the best plan

Karen ZIembstars as Dolly Levi 'Hello Dolly!' Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre. | PHOTO BY BRETT BEINER

Karen ZIemba stars as Dolly Levi in "Hello, Dolly!" at Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre. | PHOTO BY BRETT BEINER

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When: Through Jan. 5

Where: Drury Lane Oakbrook Theater, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

Tickets: $35-$49

Info: (630) 530-0111;

Run time: 2 hours and
20 minutes with one

Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM

‘Hello, Dolly!” first arrived on the Broadway stage in 1964, its leading role has been played by larger-than-life personalities: Carol Channing, of course, followed by such “replacements” as Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable and Pearl Bailey (in a groundbreaking all-black version). Then, for the film version, it was “la Streisand” who got to play Dolly Gallagher Levi, the indomitable matchmaker from early 20th century Yonkers, New York, who had a wildly happy first marriage, has grown tired of being a widow, and has set her undeterrable sights on the wealthiest (if most penny-pinching) widower in town, Horace Vandergelder.

At the Drury Lane Theatre, “Hello, Dolly!” — with its old-fashioned, grandly melodic Jerry Herman score, and its full book by Michael Stewart (heavily based on Thornton Wilder’s play, “The Matchmaker”) — is now receiving its first local revival in many years. Director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell has done a terrific job of making the show’s many dance sequences larger-than-life. But with her leading actress, Karen Ziemba, she also has experimented with putting a more realistic spin on the storytelling, trying to turn Dolly into a real woman rather than a fabulous caricature, and emphasizing the show’s proto-feminist, love-over-money, experience-the-world views. It doesn’t quite work.

Ziemba, who won a Tony Award for her work in “Contact,” is a highly skilled, intelligent performer, and her Dolly is real, likable and very capably rendered. But she lacks that all-important magic that can flip the voltage on a stage to dangerously high. In her crucial second act “return” to the posh Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in Manhattan, her reunion with the staff is warm and affectionate, but far from dazzling. The real show-stopper — and it is a doozy fully worth the price of a ticket — has preceeded it by way of the “Waiter’s Gallop,” in which the show’s tuxedoed male chorus flies, tumbles, leaps, spins and juggles its way across the stage bearing trays of champagne glasses, stacks of plates and shish kabob spears fit for a duel.

David Lively’s Vandergelder is aptly starchy. But it is the two younger couples in this show (with its charming sets by Kevin Depinet and costumes by Theresa Ham) who delight as they find love during one crazy day in New York.

Cornelius Hackl (Jeff Diebold), 33, and starved for his first kiss, and Barnaby Tucker (winning Lee Slobodkin, a great comic dancer), 17, are Vandergelder’s mischievous clerks who blossom in the company of hatmaker Irene Molloy (lovely Emily Rohm), and her naive assistant, Minnie Fay (the infectiously energetic Maggie Portman).

So think of it all this way: Though not the definitive “Dolly,” this is an ideal holiday family show option.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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