“Hello, Dolly, well Hello Dolly, It’s so nice to have you back where you belong,” goes the lyric to the title song of Jerry Herman’s 1964 musical, and it is indeed always so nice to have this infinitely treasurable show back among us. Even if Paul Kerryson’s production, clearly working within budgetary constraints, doesn’t fully belong in the wide open, vacant spaces of Leicester’s Curve, the cast valiantly fills up some of the gaps and Dolly herself is still glowing, crowing and going strong in Janie Dee’s fully inhabited performance of the title role.
Janie Dee (Dolly Levi) and Dale Rapley (Horace Vandergelder) in Hello Dolly! at the Curve, Leicester Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Hers is a lovable bear hug of a performance that channels the gravelly voice of the original stage Dolly’s Carol Channing, but, instead of offering a caricature of the role, she is both playful and knowing yet also utterly sincere. Is there a more amazingly eclectic actress working in the British theatre now than Dee? The very week before she began performances here, she was wrapping a run in a new play at London’s Royal Court - the last 18 months have also seen her in Shakespeare at London’s Globe and rushing up and downstairs in farce at the Old Vic.
As marriage broker, professional meddler and fixer, Dolly is an all-purpose life force - and so is the actress playing her. The role, originally announced for Caroline O’Connor in this revival (who withdrew when a Broadway role beckoned), has met its perfect modern match and she reinvents it totally, entering via the auditorium and breaking the fourth wall with asides to the audience.
Kerryson allows other actors to regularly spill into the auditorium, which also helps close the space between stage and audience. It’s a useful distraction from the ugly set design of Sara Perks, which pitches a sweeping staircase centre stage that may shift angles but always dominates below a perfunctory scene-setting slide screen, while Ben Atkinson’s brassy band is visible upstage behind the action.
There are also terrific supporting performances from the ever-dashing Michael Xavier, daring to project a perky nerdiness as shop clerk Cornelius Hackl and the ever-radiant Laura Pitt-Pulford as the milliner he falls in love with on a once in a lifetime trip to New York. Dale Rapley brings the perfect strutting, stocky pomposity to Horace Vandergelder, whose Scrooge-like personality undergoes the show’s biggest transformation. The dancing, prancing waiters are regulation issue, but contribute to the infectious delights of this Christmas treat.