Two classic musicals entertain local audiences.
By Kay Kipling
Both Sarasota’s Players Theatre and the Manatee Players have headed into September with an old warhorse of a musical: in the Players’ case, Cole Porter’s 1930s-era Anything Goes, and with the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, Jerry Herman’s 1964 perennial, Hello, Dolly! It’s a strategy that both makes sense (audiences love ’em) and invites comparisons (can they offer something you haven’t already seen umpteen times with these well-worn shows?)
Both productions have their strong points. Dolly, directed and choreographed by Ty Yadzinski, benefits from a talented and mostly experienced cast, along with some pleasantly nostalgic sets by Marc Lalosh. Dolly Gallagher Levi (Dianne Dawson) is a meddling matchmaker who’s decided that she’s ready to make a match for herself with that famous Yonkers half-a-millionaire, Horace Vandergelder (Cliff Cespedes). And once Dolly makes up her mind, get out of her way; she’ll stop at nothing to see that she and everyone else, including Vandergelder’s trodden-upon clerks (played by Steve Dawson and Zachary Vance Hlavec), his always weeping niece and her artist beau (Joy Lakin and Jordan Martin) and two single New York milliners (Tina Gilbert and Caitlin Longstreet) find happiness.
The elements are all there to provide familiar fun, but on the night I saw Dolly it felt a little subdued, not as lively as it could be. Dawson always sings and moves with accomplished ease; she’s bright and in charge, but her Dolly doesn’t add much to our established images of the role. Cespedes is right for the grumpy Horace (although he had some line troubles this particular night), but it’s only near the end of the show that he and Dawson really get to interact for much comic satisfaction. We get more zest out of those clerks on the loose in New York and the perky performance of Longstreet as Minnie Fay.
Yadzinski has trimmed the show a little, eliminating the Motherhood March number, but Put on Your Sunday Clothes and Elegance remain well-executed crowd pleasers. The Act I closer, Before the Parade Passes By, isn’t as buoyant or inspiring as one expects, however.
At the Players, Anything Goes certainly has its buoyant moments in its tale of all kinds of shenanigans aboard an ocean liner (impressively represented on the Players’ expansive stage by scenic artists Matthew Nitsch and John C. Reynolds). Most notable: the title tune tapfest that closes Act I; it’s exhilarating enough to make you wish you were up there onstage, too.
There’s also fun to be had thanks to public-enemy-on-the-loose Moonface Martin (Berry Ayers), the requisite Brit twit (played with relish by Mike Phelan) and flamboyant nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Jennifer K. Baker, who adds to her roster of spirited performances here after last season’s Little Women and Spitfire Grill). But there’s also some ennui onboard; this version of Anything Goes is based on the 1987 revival, and in this production at least, more (in the sense of added songs and dance numbers) is not necessarily better. The cardboard plot (mostly to do with whether debutante Hope Harcourt and her penniless admirer, Billy Crocker, can clinch despite complications) can’t really support the extra weight of another 20 minutes or more running time.
But there is the star power of Baker and the satisfying renditions of such hits as You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely and Blow, Gabriel, Blow to look forward to. And kudos to Thomas Dewayne Barrett, who also directed, for his skilled choreography.
Hello, Dolly! runs through Oct. 11 at the Manatee Players; call 748-5875 or visit manateeplayers.com. And Anything Goes is sailing on at the Players Theatre through Oct. 4; call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.