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Mountain Play Review - Hello Dolly

Back on Mount Tam - Hello Dolly

Address: Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre
Mill Valley, CA 94945
Phone: 435-383-1100

Mountain Play: Back on Tam with Hello Dolly

(l. to r.) Dyan McBride as Dolly Gallagher Levi, Zachary Frangos as Barnaby Tucker and Julia Ludwig as Minnie Fay in the Mountain Play’s production of Hello Dolly.

Review by Judith M. Wilson

Photos by Robin Jackson

After two years of quiet at Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, the Mountain Play is back with live music, colorful characters and plenty of action. The Broadway favorite Hello Dolly opened on the stage high atop Mt. Tamalpais on May 22, and “We’re back where we belong,” said executive director and artistic producer Eileen Grady, who welcomed the first audience since COVID-19 forced the annual outdoor production to take a two-year hiatus and put Hello Dolly on hold.

Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker inspired Hello Dolly, and the musical had its Broadway premiere in 1964, with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart. The show, with Carol Channing as Dolly in what became her signature role, was an immediate hit and won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It’s a crowd-pleaser with a story revolves around matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi and half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, who is seeking a new wife so he’ll have a woman to take care of his home. He has someone in mind, but Dolly has her own ideas about a good match for Horace, and her machinations take them from Yonkers, NY, to New York City and involve a series of matches, some intended and others serendipity.

Dyan McBride (Mamma Mia) plays a strong-willed, spirited Dolly, who can be charming or determined, depending on what the situation requires. Randy Nazarian (left with Jill Jacobs as Ermengarde) is the miserly, often demanding Vandergelder, who plays right into Dolly’s hands. His solo Penny in My Pocket wasn’t on the original song list but was added to a Broadway revival starring Bette Midler, and it’s a perfect fit. Nazarian (Guys and Dolls) and McBride are versatile singers, dancers and actors who take a variety of roles in stride and make them their own. Chachi Delgado and Zachary Francis play Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker respectively, and they’re employees of Vandergelder’s Feed Store and likable clowns who set off on their own adventure and learn a little about life along the way. Jill Jacobs portrays Ermengarde, Vandergelder’s niece, who is intent on making a particular match of her own.

Ensemble cast dancing in Waiters’ Galop

Mountain Play veteran Jay Manley directs with a sure hand, and Zoë Swenson-Graham is the choreographer, responsible for getting members of the ensemble in the right place at the right time in complicated dance numbers, which seems like an amazing feat. The scenic design is pared down from Andrea Bechert’s original, but it serves the purpose, with revolving sets that allow quick changes from one location to another. Mishka Navarre’s costumes take us back in time to the late 1800s and range from Vandergelder’s dumpy suit to the ladies’ elegant dresses to the waiters’ trim uniforms at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, where the different threads of the story collide. David Möschler directs the Mountain Play Orchestra, which is visible at the side of the stage.

(l. to r.) Zachary Frangos as Barnaby Tucker, Julia Ludwig as Minnie Fay, Chachi Delgado as Cornelius Hackl and Jen Brooks as Irene Molloy.

This year’s production of Hello Dolly is more than simply a show. It’s the return of a Marin tradition and a sign of some degree of normalcy after the isolation of the pandemic. “Our annual gathering on beautiful Mt. Tamalpais renews our sense of community as we share picnics, the view, the fresh mountain air and the joy,” said Grady. The Mountain Play is an experience, and it’s gratifying to see it back where it belongs.

Hello Dolly takes place on Sundays, May 29, June 5, 12 and 19. Sing-along Saturday is on Saturday, June 11. Performances start at 2 p.m., For tickets, go to mountainplay.org or call 415-383-1100.