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Theater Review: Classic ‘Dolly’ launches theater’s season

As expected, Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s 45th anniversary season is off to a promising start with its perky and spirited production of “Hello Dolly.”

Hollywood veterans and husband-and-wife duo Ellen Travolta and Jack Bannon return to the summer stage reprising their lead roles from the professional musical theater’s 2000 production. They reunite with director Roger Welch, musical director Steven Dahlke and choreographer Mike Ericson Wasileski, as well as actors Krista Kubicek and Callie McKinney Cabe.

Based on Thornton Wilder’s farce “The Matchmaker,” this cherished musical – about Dolly Gallagher Levi, an 1890s New York matchmaker and widow who makes her living meddling in the lives of others – has remained a hit since its Broadway debut in 1964. The original production garnered a whopping 10 Tony Awards from 11 nominations, including a lead actress award for Carol Channing. Three Academy Awards also went to producer Ernest Lehman and director Gene Kelly’s 1969 film version, which starred Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau, and featured a momentous cameo by Louis Armstrong.

Travolta’s comedic precision surpasses her vocal ability as Dolly Levi, who pushes and shoves her way into the heart of “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. A jack-of-all-trades, she amusingly peddles personal business cards offering a multitude of services. These include dance lessons, legal services, mandolin instruction and even varicose vein reduction.

On the surface, she appears self-assured and a bit of a know-it-all, but on a deeper level – which Travolta expertly conveys in “Before the Parade Passes By” – she’s struggling to move forward in life since the death of her “lovely” husband, Ephraim Levi. With a ruby-beaded gown and feather plume in her hair, Travolta finely conveys Levi’s triumphant comeback into New York City highlife.

Although nothing can top Satchmo and Streisand’s iconic movie duet of the show’s signature song, “Hello Dolly,” Travolta pulls off the number with charisma and sass, strutting down the marble staircase of the Harmonia Gardens restaurant (well designed by Michael McGiveney) like a burlesque queen, complemented by a pitch-perfect male chorus.

Bannon gives a smooth performance of crabby and miserly Vandergelder. Extremely unsympathetic, he refers to his clerks as “impertinent fools,” and makes the following comical proclamation: “99 percent of the people in this world are fools, and the rest of us are in great danger of contamination.” The rhythmic dialogue of the show relies heavily upon the well-timed, tug-of-war/love-hate banter he and Travolta share. Bannon and Travolta also manage to keep Herman’s lengthy monologues from becoming dull.

Kubicek shows remarkable vocal talent – as hat shop owner, widow and heiress Irene Molloy – in a rendition of “Ribbons Down My Back.” She shares the spotlight with other talented cast members: Jeremy Adams as the timid Barnaby Tucker; Cabe as Molloy’s nosey assistant, Minnie Fay; and Andrew Ware Lewis as adventurous Cornelius Hackl. Lewis also executes a commanding and sentimental solo in “It Only Takes a Moment.”

The ensemble chorus, dapperly adorned by costume designer Jessica Ray, solidly executes score composer Jerry Herman’s cheery, jocular lyrics, as does the 14-piece pit orchestra in interpreting Herman’s carnival-esque score of brisk, jazzy and romantic waltzes.

The polished and energetic – not to mention acrobatic – delivery of Wasileski’s impressive choreography by the bustling male waiters in the “Waiters’ Gallop” is a definite high point of Act Two.

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