Hello Dolly (ESNA)
Loughborough Town Hall
18th April 2023
Loughborough theatre group ESNA have a long-standing reputation for delivering high quality musicals (approaching 60 years), but it’s been a while since they dug into an older “golden age” title. That changes this week as they offer ‘Hello Dolly’ as their spring production. The 1964 musical broke records when it opened on Broadway, grabbing 10 Tony Awards out of 11 nominations and making a star out of Carol Channing who remained strongly linked to the show throughout her life. It later went on to become an Oscar-winning film in 1966 with Barbra Streisand taking the title role, fresh from her success in ‘Funny Girl’.
Dolly Levi (played here by Emma Adcock) is a quick-witted socialite and matchmaker who loves nothing more than meddling in the romantic lives of everyone around her. She travels to Yonkers, New York, to try and find a wife for the grumpy-but-wealthy bachelor Horace Vandergelder (Neil Warner). With Vandergelder out of town, his shop assistants Cornelius Hackl (Sam Hutchinson) and Barnaby Tucker (Jack Cooling) decide it’s time for them to start living their lives a little, so they too head into the big city, where they meet hat-maker Irene Molloy (Jenny Stuttle) and her assistant Minnie Fay (Danielle Aley). In typical “classic musical” fashion, misunderstandings and complications unfold around them, with Dolly juggling everything to her own romantic advantage.
‘Hello Dolly’ is undoubtedly “of it’s time” (it is nearly 60 years old, and set in 1890), and while it could be viewed by some as a “museum piece” these days, there is something wonderfully warm and charming about it. Largely this comes from the strength of Jerry Herman’s score, which is arguably his best and still sounds great today (played brilliantly by the live orchestra of ten). The score is a strong mix of rich ensemble numbers such as “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, “Dancing” and of course the title number, along with some brilliant solos for Dolly (“Before The Parade Passes By” and “So Long Dearie”). Herman wrote it as basically a star vehicle for the leading ladies of the time, as he did again with ‘Mame’, and although some outdated notions about gender still remain within the piece, having a strong-willed woman as the focus of the plot is fantastic, and watching her manoeuvre the men around her to make them look like simplistic idiots is great fun to watch.
ESNA’s production directed by Nicola Dexter is engagingly entertaining while remaining faithful to the spirit of the show. Dexter doesn’t try to dress it up into something modern or cool, instead letting the charm of the piece speak for itself, while also keeping a tight rein on the show’s pace and ensuring it doesn’t drag in the way that older musicals often can. Younger audience members raised on ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Six’ may well find it old-fashioned (and it is, in a good way), but this production of one of theatreland’s “golden age” musicals delivers it as it should be done, and it feels charismatically “old-school” Broadway (helped further with some wonderful costumes).
This theatre group always deliver when it comes to performances (as anyone who saw last year’s productions of ‘Kinky Boots’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’ will attest to), and once again the talent on show here is strong. Emma Adcock leads the show with conviction and drive, some lively quick repartee with Neil Warner’s Horce (also excellent), and delivering the solos with a punch. Vocally she’s matched by Jenny Stuttle as Irene, who sings “Ribbons Down My Back” beautifully. Sam Hutchinson and Jack Cooling make for a likeable pairing as Cornelius and Barnaby respectively, and some great supporting comic turns also come from Danielle Aley (Minnie) and Nicole Ray (Ernestina).
‘Hello Dolly’ is gentle and warm-hearted entertainment, and ESNA have delivered it really well here. Yes it’s old-fashioned and borderline daft when viewed with modern sensibilities, but cast your mind back to a simpler time and let Jerry Herman’s score bring a smile to your face. Another success for ESNA, we’re already looking forward to the next one.
‘Hello Dolly’ runs at the Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 22nd April 2023.
Performance runtime 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.