Review: Hello, Dolly! at Liverpool Empire ****
Last season BOST took a noirish journey into the sinister, unsavoury savoury world of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
This year they’ve swapped the worst pies in London for the best dinner in New York, served up in a colourful and warm-hearted production of the preposterous tale of meddling Manhattan matchmaker Dolly Levi.
It’s an ambitious staging of the Stewart/Herman musical, with energetic choreography which spills off the stage and promenades on to ramps and a catwalk which together encircle the band in the pit.
The design stops the action becoming too lateral and gives it an extra sense of movement and pace.
At the centre of this production are not one but two leading ladies – principal player Pat Davies as BOST’s Dolly dazzler, and veteran director Elsie Kelly who is hanging up her director’s hat after almost 50 years with the company.
As swansongs go, Kelly should be pleased with what her performers achieve. This is an amateur company with a professional attitude, and there is a lot of experience on show here (including, in a tribute to Kelly, a brief guest appearance by West End actor and dancer Graeme Henderson as a tap-dancing chef).
The chorus are in strong voice through the big ensemble numbers – buoyed by a bright and breezy orchestra (whose overtures deserve to be listened to, not talked over!), and there are a number of impressive solo performances.
Sarah Chidlow and John Francis Viagus as Irene and Cornelius. Top: Pat Davies as Dolly Levi.
Last season’s Sweeney, Tony Prince, clearly relishes his baddie role as the irascible Scrooge-like miser Hector Vandergelder, while Sarah Chidlow, playing sparky widow Irene Molloy, has a lovely clarity to her soprano singing voice.
And then there’s the simply delightful double act of John Francis Viagus and Brian Comer as Vandergelder’s naive and put-upon clerks Cornelius and Barnaby, who get a taste of freedom on a madcap day out in the big city. The pair have great comic timing and are incredibly watchable whenever they set foot on stage.
Meanwhile Davies sweeps majestically through her scenes as the fast-talking, scheming Dolly, the matchmaker who just wants to settle down.
There are still a handful of sections that need smoothing out and tightening up, but all in all BOST has delivered another impressive production of a musical favourite.