Irving — No, The Matchmaker is not a song from Fiddler on the Roof. It is a Thornton Wilder play whose road to Broadway connects three countries, two continents, and four dramatic forms—play, film, stage musical, and film musical. It actually got lost in the shuffle and forgotten for a while along the way. MainStage Irving-Las Colinas remembered The Matchmaker and brought it to the Dupree Theatre stage in Irving under the direction of Dave Schmidt.
When most people think of Thornton Wilder, the play that immediately comes to mind is Our Town. It was wildly successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938, and it continues to be his most often staged work. While Our Town was wowing Broadway audiences, Wilder was busy adapting an Austrian play for the stage, a work he entitled The Merchant of Yonkers. This new piece opened on Broadway but was not well received, and lasted only 39 performances. Wilder shelved the work for a while.
Fifteen years later, at the encouragement of director Tyrone Guthrie, Wilder reworked the piece and finished it under the title of The Matchmaker. The new and improved play first opened in Edinburg, Scotland, and then moved to the West End in London before finally opening on Broadway in 1955. This time, it worked and Guthrie won the Tony Award for best director.
The Matchmaker was subsequently adapted into film (1958), and then later (1964) to musical theater as Hello, Dolly! (book by Michael Stewart and music by Jerry Herman). Time passed and the play was forgotten. Why? It was embargoed, not permitted to be staged as long as Hello, Dolly! was running on Broadway and across the country. In 1969, Hello, Dolly! the stage musical was released as a film musical starring Barbra Streisand.
This comedy takes place in Yonkers, N.Y. during the early 1880s. We enter the story as wealthy store owner Horace Vandergelder (James West) is announcing his decision to send his niece, Ermengarde (Marisa Duran), away for a while because he does not want her to marry Ambrose Kemper (Jake Blakeman). There is nothing wrong with Ambrose. Horace is just protective of Ermengarde. Blakeman and Duran are well-matched like the figures atop a wedding cake.
It is a busy day and Horace has plans in New York City for later. He impatiently gives work assignments to his store assistants, Cornelius Hackl (Hayden Evans) and Barnaby Tucker (Tyler Knabe). Evans and Tucker seam together well which is important because Cornelius and Barnaby drive quite a bit of the humor in the script. Their scenes with Obeney and Hildebrand as Mrs. Molloy and Minnie are the funniest and most energetic of the play. They pop.
Horace is visited by Dolly Levi (Sherry Etzel), a matchmaker whose services he has enlisted to find a wife for him. Dolly is the juggler, keeping all of these relationships swirling toward happy resolutions. Etzel and West are a bit disconnected, as if they are not always listening to each other. When they sync, the humor snaps more naturally.
This play moves quickly and constantly. Schmidt has organized the movement smartly; that the audience’s eye keeps moving, which helps a farcical work. There were a few lighting hiccups at the performance reviewed, one of which left an actor to deliver a few lines of monologue in the dark. There is underscoring for one of the monologues that is really unneeded and too loud. Otherwise, the technical elements flow without distracting.
This is an entertaining play, especially if you already have knowledge of Hello, Dolly!