Review: Hello Dolly. Masqueraders. Abbey Theatre Nuneaton

Hello Dolly (Masqueraders)

Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton

9th November 2023

Fresh from their fantastic production of ‘Spamalot’ earlier in the year, Nuneaton-based theatre group Masqueraders are back to entertain us again, this time bringing us the 1964 musical ‘Hello Dolly’.  A star vehicle for Carol Channing on stage and later Barbra Streisand, the record-breaking show was a critical and commercial hit, scooping numerous awards and becoming a firm favourite for fans of “classic Broadway”.  The show is being revived in London’s West End 2024, so now is a great time for East Midlands audiences to see it done on their doorstep.

Dolly Levi (played here by Libby Brookes) 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 (Richard Yates).  With Vandergelder out of town, his shop assistants Cornelius Hackl (Chad Fletcher) and Barnaby Tucker (Ashley Blackstock) 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 (Katy Lloyd) and her assistant Minnie Fay (Georgie Wing).  In typical “classic musical” fashion, misunderstandings and complications unfold around them, with Dolly juggling everything to her own romantic advantage.

There’s no question that ‘Hello Dolly’ is very much a product of its time, being nearly 60 years old and set in the late 19th century, so it can forgiven for feeling a little old-fashioned, but equally that’s where its charm lies.  It could be viewed by some as a “museum piece” these days, with some outdated gender stereotypes and attitudes, but at the same time there is something wonderfully warm and likeable about it.  Jerry Herman’s brilliant score does take a lot of the credit for this, with it undoubtedly being some of his finest and most memorable work, and there’s no doubt that seeing a strong female character pulling the narrative strings and manoeuvring the men around her like pawns until she gets what she wants is a deliciously fun journey.  Michael Stewart’s book is witty with enjoyable characters, and although there is a significant amount of padding in order to fill the running time (particularly noticeable in the second act, where the songs are also weaker too), it’s still a fun time.

The Masqueraders’ production does a great job of remaining faithful to the spirit of the musical and delivers it with olde-world charm.  It doesn’t try to rework the piece into something more modern or cool to appease younger audiences members, and instead lets the natural likeability of the musical piece speak for itself.  Fans of ‘Six’ and ‘Hamilton’ will find it to be a strange alien world, old-fashioned instead of trendy, but our modern musicals owe a lot to their predecessors and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had.  That said, it does run out of steam in the second half (more the fault of the material than the performers), and some of the ensemble do feel somewhat underpowered and could do with ramping their energy up a couple more notches.

The leading performers all do well, but “Hello Dolly” lives or dies on the strength of its Dolly, and the Masqueraders have a real trump card here in Libby Brookes, who is superb.  Capturing Dolly’s humour,  determination and “scheming with a smile” is no easy task, but Brookes delivers, excelling at both the masses of intricate dialogue as well as the big solo numbers.  Richard Yates also makes a great Horace, and Chad Fletcher and Ashley Blackstock work well together as Cornelius and Barnaby.  Katy Lloyd also shows off a lovely singing voice, particularly in “Ribbons Down My Back”, and Georgie Wing injects some energetic personality into her performance as Minnie Fay.

‘Hello Dolly’ is warm-hearted if quaint entertainment, and the Masqueraders have delivered it well here.  There’s no getting away from the fact it’s old-fashioned and borderline daft when viewed with modern sensibilities, but sometimes you just need to hum a good tune and smile, and “Hello Dolly” delivers just that.  Well done Masqueraders, we look forward to the next show.

‘Hello Dolly’ runs at the Abbey Theatre, Nuneaton, Saturday 11th November 2023.

Performance runtime 2 hours 35 minutes including interval.

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