With the predicted barbecue summer on and off faster than a Hemingway musical it looked as if the Whingers’ 2009 visit to Regent’s Park might end up as a reprise of last year’s somewhat waterlogged outing.
But with the sudden return of good weather over the weekend the Whingers had been optimistically talking again of sizzling their sausages. It seemed that the plastic ponchos which stood them in such good stead at last year’s delightful Gigi might remain packed away and that they would be able to appreciate Jerry Herman‘s Hello, Dolly! by putting on their sunny day clothes.
But Andrew – thrilled by the meticulous punctuation of the title – had been impatiently tapping his barometer and keeping a beady eye on the forecast and in his practised Cassandra voice was warning that things weren’t looking too good for Dolly‘s press night (Yes, press night! How grand is that? See what you can achieve when one of you dons a prosthetic Ian Shuttleworth suit and the other simply claims to be new boy Henry Hitchings? The people at the press desk didn’t suspect a thing).
But we digress.
“Rain predicted for 10 o’clock, but mother says it may swing off to the north east,” Andrew harrumphed as the Whingers rushed in to the hospitality area to take advantage of the free wine before the show (they had arrived two hours early so as to take maximum advantage of the opportunity). And so despite Andrew’s meteorological misgivings, the mood was inevitably lightened by the free wine, free tickets, free programmes, the promise of free cake and (he claims) a glimpse of Una Stubbs as Andrew tootled off to the little boys’ room.
There was little to dampen their spirits despite the fact that Hello, Dolly! isn’t up there in the Whingers’ pantheon of favourite musicals. Andrew had never seen it on stage, doesn’t care for the film and was twisted with jealousy by Phil’s tales of his visit to see Carol Channing recreating her original Dolly at Drury Lane back in 1979.
But since director Timothy Sheader had made such a good job of Gigi would lightening strike twice? Hopefully not, as the Whingers would be be sitting outside in potentially wet clothing and surrounded by trees.
But strike it did. Metaphorically of course. Phil even felt a tingle go up his spine during the overture. Hello, Dolly!‘s tale of Dolly Levi, Jewish matchmaker with a finger in every pie in turn of the 20th century New York is delightful. Her undertaking to find a wife for the cantankerous half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (Allan Corduner) on whom she secretly has designs are amusingly told and interspersed with surprisingly enjoyable numbers.
Stephen Mear‘s choreography is crisp and perky, especially in the wittily realised “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and “Waiters’ Gallop” numbers. It knowingly nods to the great choreographic traditions with a love which the audience rewarded with enthusiastic applause. There’s even tap-dancing (a relatively unfashionable form for whose comeback we are fervantly praying).
Samantha Spiro (left) is perfectly cast – utterly charming, very funny and much less irritating than Barbra Streisand. Interestingly, Miss Spiro played another Streisand role in Funny Girl at Chichester last year and we await her Yentl with interest. Even the roar of a helicopter which passed overhead (worryingly turning the show momentarily into Miss Saigon) didn’t deter her.
We were also very struck by Josefina Gabrille as milliner Irene Molloy and Daniel Crossley (below) who is wonderfully gormless as the love-struck Cornelius Hackl (but a note to wardrobe: drop the ill-fitting oversized jacket – it just makes him look as though he’s been very ill).
Congratulations to Peter McKintosh for his economical yet witty set that leaves maximum space for the set-pieces, not least the excellent dancing waiters who really do almost steal the show.
And what of Andrew’s precipitation prognostications? Well, after an evening of beautifully crisp dry hems (unlike last year), down it came on the dot of 10 o’clock. Not enough to deter the Whingers, you understand, and not enough to deter the cast. Though as many of the audience started to disappear under plastic (Andrew even assisted the chap sitting in front of him with his plastic mac) the show carried on on an increasingly wet stage. Andrew swore to don his poncho only after Samantha Spiro donned hers. She didn’t, of course. None of them did. What troupers. What trooping.
So, yes, marvellous, charming, funny. There was even an inspired comedy moment involving a stove-pipe hat. The evening flew by. We would go again in a trice. We may have to try blagging our way in again. Phil has already bought a quite convincing Lyn Gardner wig and Andrew is growing a big bushy beard and shaving his head.
If you’ve never experienced a show in Regent’s Park, now is the time to experience the magic. Only the culturally challenged could possibly claim otherwise. We can’t promise free cake or wine or even Una Stubbs, but hopefully your trip will be more Hello, Dolly! than Hello, Brolly!
Hello, Dolly! runs until 12 September 2009