Back where she belongs: Hello Dolly, at the Devonshire Park Theatre this week, is not simply revived by EODS but restored to sparkling life.
The original show, written back in the mid-60s and based on a Thornton Wilder farce, is not flawless. The plot creaks and lurches at times, but heck, this is musical theatre. And it is a rather slow burner in Act One – but well worth the wait.
In the title role, Claire Robinson is lovable, engaging and very human as the redoubtable matchmaker who finds her own match. The role was written for Ethel Merman and also played by Midler and Streisand – no pressure then, Claire! - her musical numbers are pitched very low, and do not quite give rein to Claire’s superb soprano voice. But it’s still a stunning performance.
Direction is a family affair, with Keith and Teresa Smith respectively assured director and inventive choreographer, while Keith also steps in at short notice as an amusing Cornelius Hackl.
Never in his parents’ shadow, youngster Chris Smith takes a brilliant turn as a smart and likeable Barnaby.
Bright sets, costumes and lighting give a happy primary-colours feel, and all the technicals work like a dream.
Dolly’s mission is to seal as many matches as she can, whether or not they fit. After a string of minor disasters and farcical mix-ups, Cornelius lands Casey Dearing’s merry widow Mrs Molloy, and younger suitor Barnaby hooks his Minnie – a delightful Josie Mead. Dolly herself is just destined for Clem Jackson’s hapless half-a-millionaire Vandergelder: “It’s no use arguing. I’ve made up your mind!”
Great support, too, from Emily Wright as deliciously dotty Ermingarde and her suitor Sebastien Sinclair-Ziafard as bohemian Ambrose. The choreography is far, far above expectations for an amateur production: ambitiously conceived by Teresa Smith and breathtakingly executed by an ensemble that crosses the generations. Sisters Carys and Sian Clarke (with mum Nikky also in the chorus) team up with elastic lads Toby Lord and Arlie Gurney in routines resembling Olympic gymnastics. And the Act Two sequence with spinning, levitating waiters is like a Jack Vettriano painting come to life. See it, and gasp.
By Kevin Anderson
Eastbourne Operatic and Dramatic Society
Devonshire Park Theatre - Until June 16