STAGE REVIEW : Intense, Feel-Good, Multiracial 'Dolly!' in Long Beach

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's nice to have "Hello, Dolly!" back, even if she's not quite where she belongs.

Long Beach Civic Light Opera's revival of this grand old feel-good show is billed as "the first multiracial production." So the spectacle is even more idealized than before: whites and blacks mingle, like in a soft-drink commercial, and even pair up--which goes beyond the commercial norm. Everyone blissfully disregards racial barriers.

Well, maybe not all the barriers: the Asians here remain in the chorus. But you get the point.

It would be silly to say that this purposefully cross-racial casting isn't realistic, as if "Dolly!" were a documentary about life in Yonkers and Manhattan a century ago. "Dolly!" is anti-documentary. In this show, all you have to do is "put on your Sunday clothes," and presto--"you feel as fine as you look!"

David H. Bell's staging is not afflicted with other forms of modernization--no hip-hop arrangements or choreography, no outfits inspired by whatever Madonna wore yesterday. He is making a safe statement. But it's a statement nonetheless.

Nell Carter has the title role. When she wheedles her way into people's pocketbooks, her voice curls around her lines with a sound reminiscent of, yes, Carol Channing, the original Dolly. But when she sings about herself, Carter has a full-throttle power few Dollys possess.

The highlight is the first-act finale, "Before the Parade Passes By," brought off by Carter and her chorus with an intensity that momentarily lifts feel-good sentiment into the realm of Shaw's Life Force. The design team works wonders here with the unearthly spectacle of the 14th Street parade.

Then there are Carter's second-act sashays, in voluminous gowns designed by Garland Riddle. Indubitably, irresistibly elegant.

Nipsey Russell's Horace looks too amiable in his first scenes, but he turns up the grouch meter by the second act. He speaks rather than sings "It Takes a Woman," which is OK, though he doesn't quite know what to do with his arms.

The first, pre-showstopper scenes suffer somewhat from the size of the venue. A few lines are lost and visual details sacrificed.

The Civic Light orchestra has been reduced and synthesized in reaction to a labor dispute. Entering the hall, audience members were handed leaflets challenging producer Barry Brown's contention that the audience wouldn't be able to tell the difference. It's hard to know how much notice would have been taken if we hadn't been thus prompted, but a couple of orchestrations did sound synthetic, most noticeably "It Only Takes a Moment."

'Hello, Dolly!'

Nell Carter: Dolly Levi

Derek Anunciation: Ambrose Bierce

Nipsey Russell: Horace Vandergelder

Kamilah Martin: Ermangarde

Timothy Smith: Cornelius Hackl

David Gunderman: Barnaby Tucker

Karole Foreman: Minnie Fay

Patty Tiffany: Irene Molloy

Randy Skinner: Rudolph

Alma Martinez: Ernestina Money, Judge

A Long Beach Civic Light Opera production. Book by Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker." Score by Jerry Herman. Direction and musical staging by David H. Bell. Musical direction by John McDaniel. New choreography by Randy Skinner. Sets Randy Wright. Lights Robert Sternberg. Costumes Garland Riddle. Sound Jonathan Deans. Hair/makeup Elena M. Breckinridge.

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