Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Like Bank Holidays, there’s something reassuringly if annoyingly old-fashioned about Jerry Herman’s 1964 smash-hit musical. When it opened, it must have appeared like the last blast of anything goes, big bucks entertainment. While a new generation were letting it all hang out, Hello, Dolly!’s advocacy of the sanctity of marriage, money and good old American values undoubtedly brought comfort, not least to the show’s producers.
Today, Chris Colby’s big, brash and bright new touring production is more interestingly at odds with the desperate beast the modern musical has become. Using a conventional picture-book diorama set, a honking live band and an emphasis on song and dance routines that at times prove so exhausting as to feel like they’ll go on forever, it’s a healthy if reactionary flipside to the franchised hi-tech gimmickry that prevails elsewhere.
It’s such simple and infectious panache that makes this tale of the New Yoik match-maker so winning. Anita Dobson’s Dolly is the sort of over-bearing matriarch who would have caused Tennessee Williams to flinch, and who these days has mercifully been put out of business by Speed Dating and Facebook. As schmuck on the make Cornelius, Darren Day is an amiable amalgam of Ant and Dec, while Dobson has a blousily common enough touch to make Dolly her own.
The title song, of course, maintains the hip-swinging, tassel-twirling oomph so beloved of drag queens as to make one wonder how on earth their repertoires coped before what’s quite possibly the best walk-down number on the planet was written. Essentially, though, as Dolly’s final speech makes clear, this is an American romance, where love and money go hand in hand.
The Herald, February 27th 2008