If Serra Catholic High School's production of Broadway favorite "Hello, Dolly!" has a single motif, it's minimalism. From the gymnasium-turned-theater that seats the show's patrons to the iconic scene of half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder's feed shop, Serra Catholic's spring musical certainly operates under the ideal that "less is more."
"Hello, Dolly!" is, by most definitions, a simple love story. Over the course of the show, patrons witness the rollercoaster ride that stems from professional matchmaker Dolly Levi's futile attempts to find stubborn and miserly store owner Mr. Vandergelder a suitable wife in New York City; ultimately, she marries him herself. A highly entertaining subplot features Vandergelder's two lighthearted clerks taking a vacation during their day off, also to New York City, in pursuit of their first kisses.
What Serra Catholic's "Hello, Dolly!" lacks in aesthetic extravagance, it more than makes up for in sheer enthusiasm. Whether or not the simplicity of the sets and costumes is the intent of the show's producers is a mystery, but the performers throw aside the dullness that usually accompanies "artistic minimalism" and perform with satisfying fervor.
Chief among the musical's stars is senior Caitie Webster, whose performance as the titular Mrs. Dolly Levi displays the natural poise that transforms a good singer into a great performer. During songs like Act I's "I Put My Hand In," Webster's voice is simultaneously a symbol of both maturity and vitality; she is elegant and reserved, but clearly an entertainer at heart.
Much of the show's entertainment comes from the kind of instances that clutter modern sitcoms, but in their most organic forms. Between Barnaby's repeated cries of "holy cabooses!" and an odd coincidence that causes two unexpected parties to meet in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, "Dolly" often feels more like an episode of "Friends" than an adaptation of a Thornton Wilder play.
But that's exactly why "Dolly" is so entertaining: it provides for its audience a deft blend of slapstick comedy and timeless questions about love, social classes, and gender roles. Why, for instance, doesn't the stubborn and exceedingly wealthy Mr. Vandergelder just raise his clerks' wages by a few cents an hour? What is it about hat shop owner Irene Molloy that Cornelius finds so alluring? Why is Vandergelder so insistent that "It Takes A Woman" to perform his household duties?
Fortunately for the audience, the cast of Serra Catholic's production strikes a pleasant balance between the solemn and the humorous. The most amusing and compelling performances come from Nick Astle and Ben Ziegler, who complement each other rather nicely playing store clerks Cornelius and Barnaby; they perfectly capture the duo's animated nature from the first time they emerge full of life from the hatch on the floor of Vandergelder's feed shop.
"Hello, Dolly!" isn't the perfect musical, and Serra Catholic's isn't the perfect production. But the pairing of Horace Vandergelder and Dolly Levi is by no means the perfect marriage: the two have their flaws, but they're able to see the best in each other. It's easy to see the strengths in Serra Catholic's spring musical as well: above all else, the actors and actresses are dedicated to putting on an enthralling show.
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson (firstname.lastname@example.org), a long-time Kelly Awards judge.
First Published May 9, 2012 12:00 AM