David Coffee and&nbsp;Jacquelyn Piro Donovan star in&nbsp;<em>Hello, Dolly!</em>&nbsp;at Casa Manana

Review: Hello, Dolly! | Casa Manana | Casa Manana Theatre

Dolly High

Casa Mañana's ebullient revival of Hello, Dolly! has a secret weapon: David Coffee as Horace.

published Sunday, September 9, 2018

Photo: Chip Tompkins
Jacquelyn Piro Donovan star in Hello, Dolly! at Casa Manana


Fort Worth — “It’s no use arguing, I’ve made up your mind,” coos Dolly Gallagher Levi—and who is grumpy half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder to argue with that? She’s a dynamo, a force of nature whose life’s work is to “arrange things” for everyone around her…including the audience. Casa Mañana’s winning revival of Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! sets the room swaying to one irresistible tune after another—and we’re delighted to be under the spell of those waving red feathers again.

This production has the added joy of a Horace for the ages, the warm and wonderful stage magician David Coffee, marking a full half-century of acting on the Casa Mañana stage. It’s long been a given that the success of a Dolly! depends on the talents of the actress in the lead role, and Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (last seen as an impressive Mother Abbess in Casa’s 2014 Sound of Music) certainly brings the goods, most evidently in her blazing versions of the show’s signature songs “Before the Parade Passes By” and “Hello, Dolly.” But for this show to really catch an audience—to make us care what happens—the Horace/Dolly pairing needs to work. It’s what turns this musical, when it’s done right, into something more than a giddy farce.

Photo: Chip Tompkins
David Coffee and Jacquelyn Piro Donovan star in Hello, Dolly! at Casa Manana

And that’s where Mr. C comes in.

Red-faced and bellowing from the get-go, Coffee’s Horace bullies everyone in his orbit, from his weeping niece (Lauren Magee) and her timid beau (Bryson Petersen) to his store clerks (earnest and sweet-voiced Ryan Jesse as Cornelius, limber and comic Kenny Francoeur as Barnaby). Yet Coffee is hilariously tender in Horace’s anthem to female drudgery “It Takes a Woman,” dancing romantically with a mop like Fred Astaire, dreaming of the beautiful miss who will “work until infinity” just for him. Without missing a comedy beat, Coffee slowly builds a Horace who feels like a real man (not a top-hatted Monopoly-game cartoon), and who slowly comes to know that Dolly herself, as maddening as he finds her, is the woman he wants. There’s some real—and really funny—chemistry building up between Coffee and Donovan, and it makes all the difference to the show’s emotional arc.

Composer/lyricist Herman’s compulsively singable tunes are the other X-factor, of course. Herman (also famous for the hit musicals Mame and La Cage Aux Folles) has a knack for the kind of toe-tapper audiences warble in the car on the drive home. Dolly has an extraordinary number of his best, from the aforementioned big numbers to ensemble showcases like “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”—and the lovely ballads “Ribbons Down My Back” (sung gorgeously by Emily Ferranti as the pretty widow Irene Molloy) and “It Only Takes a Moment” (a gently beautiful duet for Ferranti and Jesse’s Cornelius).

Donovan isn’t a typically New Yawk-accented Dolly, but she quickly grows on us as she tells her late husband of her decision to “rejoin the human race” and find life and love again. By the time she’s clutching a thank-you nosegay from clerk Barnaby to her heart (and looking after him like a fond mother), we’re rooting big for Dolly’s decision to marry Horace herself and spread his money around, helping “young things” to grow and prosper. You go, girl!

Katie Emerson is a hoot as Minnie Fay, the bouncy, curious assistant in Mrs. Molloy’s Manhattan hat shop, and she keeps up with the spring-loaded Francoeur in some fresh-feeling dance numbers. Dolly’s Director/choreographer Jennifer Werner pays homage to the Gower Champion original dance moves—drawing on the exaggerated mannerisms of turn-of-the-century ballroom style, but keeping things light-footed and comfortable, whether in Dolly’s soft shoe with the Harmonia Gardens staff (and Bob Reed’s whistle-blowing headwaiter Rudy) or the dreamy, swirling waltz “Dancing.”

Werner’s choreography shows off the mind-bending variety of Tammy Spencer’s costumes, painted in all the colors of a Gay (18) Nineties ice-cream parlor—including a few sherbet-hued floaty dresses that look straight-up kidnapped from The Music Man. Bob Lavallee’s flexible set design of twin gazebos (doubling later for the “private rooms” of the restaurant) and descending stairways (one of them appearing magically just when it’s needed) is minimal but delicately decorative, and John Bartenstein’s eye-filling patterns of light and color punctuate every change of scene and mood.

Music director Edward G. Robinson draws beautiful sound from the pit orchestra without ever covering up the singers and lyrics; he needs to schedule some master classes for shows that don’t have a clue how that’s done. Sound designer Eric Norris plays his part well, though for whoever needs to know, we lose some of Dolly’s faster spoken lines to a body mike that might need to be adjusted.

Twenty years after the 1964 Hello, Dolly! opened (two months after JFK’s assassination, in a country that needed some joy) and blew Broadway to happy bits, Jerry Herman was still cheerfully defending his desire to write entertaining shows with songs made to be warbled by the average Joe or Jane. “There’s a rumor,” he grinned, holding onto the 1984 Tony for La Cage Aux Folles, “that the simple hummable show tune is dead on Broadway.”

Not so fast, people. In the seats around me on opening night, here was a 21st-century audience humming along to song after song—and Jerry Herman, who’s still around (hello, Miami?) is smiling from ear to ear, we just know it.

Hello, Dolly. Hello, Horace. It’s so nice to see you back where you belong. Thanks For Reading

View the Article Slideshow
Click or Swipe to close
Dolly High
Casa Mañana's ebullient revival of Hello, Dolly! has a secret weapon: David Coffee as Horace.
by Jan Farrington

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :