CEDAR RAPIDS — “Hello, Dolly!” is the hottest ticket in town.
It deserves to have every seat filled from now through Oct. 13 at Theatre Cedar Rapids. So grab a ticket before the parade passes by.
Nina Swanson is back where she belongs — in the Theatre Cedar Rapids spotlight, with more than 500 fans cheering for not only her in the title role, but for the exuberant performances from everyone onstage and behind the scenes during Thursday’s final dress rehearsal.
Every character Swanson steps into feels like it was written for her, from her last turn in a TCR musical as Peter Pan in 1988 to Victor/Victoria for Revival Theatre in 2017. After seeing her embody New York’s busybody matchmaker, you won’t be able to imagine anybody else in the role. She’s that good.
And I’ve seen Carol Channing play Dolly Levi.
Every elegant turn of her wrist, every heartfelt lyric, every crystal-clear utterance and her perfect comedic timing grounds a larger-than-life character that could easily slip into caricature under a lesser artist.
Swanson, however, makes Dolly so real, so likable, so lovable and so sympathetic, as the widow finally ready to make a match for herself and move on with her life.
She married her late husband for love. This time, she wants to marry for money — not to lavish in luxury, but to spread that wealth around to young people who need a hand up.
She sets her sights on half-a-millionaire and widower Horace Vandergelder (Greg Smith) from nearby Yonkers, N.Y. He has retained her services to find him a wife who will perform tedious household chores with a smile.
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Dolly knows she can’t present herself as his match, so she weaves a web of delicate, delicious deceptions by arranging meetings with the widowed hat-maker Irene Molloy (Angela Billman) and the outlandish Ernestina Money (Sara Maslowski). Both women light up the stage with joy.
Smith’s grump is a match made in heaven for Swanson’s glee, reluctantly pouncing on all the bits of cheese in her cat-and-mouse game.
Also in the mood for love are Vandergelder’s employees Cornelius Hackl (Zane Hadish) and Barnaby Tucker (Jenub Wan), who sneak off to New York to live a little. Hoping to at least kiss a girl, they meet up with their perfect partners, Irene Molloy and her employee, Minnie Fay (Erin Helm).
That has disaster written all over it, and their scene in the hat shop is pure pleasure as they try to hide from Vandergelder, who rules his employees with a tightwad fist.
Meanwhile, a forbidden love is brewing in the background, between Vandergelder’s niece, Ermengarde (Ferin Bergen), and artist Ambrose Kemper (Calvin Boman). No matter how many annoying tears his niece sheds, Vandergelder forbids their marriage, as artists never make any money, and Ermengarde is just 17.
Helm raises giddiness to a new level, Bergen perfects the teenage wail, Hadish and Wan are consummate triple-threat actors and Billman shimmers as she hopes for a new beginning.
It’s a musical comedy, so naturally, all’s well — and ends well.
It’s the ride getting to the wedding bells that’s so much fun.
Visionaries Brian Glick and Cameron Sullenberger have proved their mettle with every single show they’ve staged for Revival Theatre Company, the musical theater troupe they launched locally in 2014. Artistic director Glick and music director Sullenberger jumped at the chance to marry their talents with the bells and whistles at their fingertips at Theatre Cedar Rapids.
Once again, the dynamic duo has assembled an A-list cast of actors and orchestra, buoyed by TCR’s technical pool. Benjamin Stuben Farrar has outdone himself with the lavish scenery and lighting, and the costumes, a mixture of rented and created pieces by Joni Sackett, are nothing short of resplendent.
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Darin Ulmer’s sound design is spot on, keeping the balance between the excellent orchestra and actors moving hand in hand.
A special nod goes to choreographer Megan Helmers, who keeps the actors and action on their toes, bouncing through every style of music in Jerry Herman’s classic score.
The “Waiters’ Gallop” at the posh Harmonia Gardens Restaurant is worth the price of admission. The athletic men of the ensemble cavort, careen, leap and twist as they jump for joy over Dolly’s triumphant return — not only to the city’s hot spot, but to the Theatre Cedar Rapids stage.
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If you go
• What: “Hello, Dolly!”
• Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: To Oct. 13; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
• Tickets: $22 to $45; TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or Theatrecr.org/event/hello-dolly/2019-09-20/
• Extras: ASL-interpreted performance Oct. 12, contact the box office for reserved-section seating