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Paulanne Simmons

Dolly Is Back, and She's Tovah Feldshuh

"Hello, Dolly!"
Directed by Mark S. Hoebee
Paper Mill Playhouse
Brookside Drive in Milburn, NJ
Opened June 7, 2006
Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thurs. 2 & 7:30 p.m., Fri 8 p.m., Sat 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7:30 p.m.
Two added Wed. matinees on July 12 & 19 2 p.m.
$19-$68 (718) 376-4343 or www.papermill.org
Closes July 23, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 11, 2006
Brian Sears as Barnaby and Jonathan Rayson as Cornelius in "Hello, Dolly!" Photo by Gerry Goodwin.


The actresses who have played Dolly Gallagher Levi include Carol Channing (original Broadway production of "Hello, Dolly!"), Pearl Bailey (heading an all-black cast), Ethel Merman (for whom Jerry Herman originally wrote the score), Mary Martin (who played the role in London, Japan and Vietnam), Barbra Streisand (in the 1969 film, ironically, after losing the 1964 Tony to Carol Channing) and Ruth Gordon (in the original Broadway production of Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker," on which the musical was based).

This June, Tovah Feldshuh takes the role in Paper Mill Playhouse's revival, directed by Mark S. Hoebee. But unlike other interpreters, Feldshuh does not play Dolly as a Jewish widow, but rather emphasizes Dolly's Irish Catholic roots. This is surprising, not only because of Feldshuh's obviously Jewish name, but also because so much of Feldshuh's work has been on Jewish themes: "Golda's Balcony," "Yentl," "Holocaust."

If the interpretation is surprising, however, it is certainly inspired. The truth is there's nothing about Dolly Levi that's Jewish other than her name and the coincidence that after Carol Channing (a Christian Scientist from San Francisco) played her as a Jew, the image of the Jewish matchmaker was reinforced by "Fiddler on the Roof," which opened on Broadway later that same year.

Kate Baldwin as Irene Malloy in "Hello, Dolly!" Photo by Gerry Goodwin.

Dolly sings, dances and talks blarney lake any daughter of the Emerald Isle. Her creator, Thornton Wilder was Protestant. And Dolly was born in 1850, during the potato famine and came to New York long before any major Jewish immigration (though she does marry Ephraim Levi, who was a Jewish immigrant).

Channing claims she found it easy to play Dolly as Jewish because she married into a Yiddish-speaking family after graduating from Bennington. And Streisand most certainly played Dolly as Jewish because, let's face it, what else could she do?

If composer and lyricist Jerry Herman's two best known shows, "Mame" and "Hello, Dolly!" were written for divas, he also created noteworthy roles for men. Walter Charles, as the cantankerous Horace Vandergelder, the widower Dolly has set her sights on, certainly hold his own. His uptight meaness is the perfect counterweight to Dolly's expansive generosity.

Kate Baldwin, as Irene Malloy, Dolly's rival for Vandergelder's affections and Jessica-Snow Wilson as Irene's sidekick, Minnie Fay, also turn in fine performance.

Set designer Michael Anania and Costume designer James Schuette bring the late 19th century flavor of the play to life in all its Victorian splendor. The Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, scene of the famous "Hello, Dolly!" serenade, is truly breathtaking.

Paper Mill Playhouse is about forty-five minutes from midtown Manhattan. But it's worth the trip to find yourself back on Broadway with all its charm and glitter.

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