‘Hello, Dolly!’ offers laughter and escapism at Port Tobacco Players

Sometimes you need escapism, a break from the heavy drama that can be real life. Nothing serious. Hello, Dolly! will provide you with the kind of theatrical medicine you need. As directed by Benjamin Simpson, and with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, Port Tobacco Players’ Hello, Dolly! is a rousing crowd-pleaser.

Hello, Dolly! is based on a play titled The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder. In Yonkers and New York City in the 1890s, socialite Dolly Gallagher Levi was a woman of many talents and side hustles. Dolly offered her services as a dance instructor, lawyer, and matchmaker. A soured Yonkers widower, Horace Vandergelder, needed a wife, and Dolly was sent to find one.

Demetri Black, Patrick Dolan, Hunter Martin, Rachel Taylor, Tessa Silvestro, and Caroline House in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Photo by Connie Murphy.

2018 WATCH Award winner Tessa N. Silvestro played the titular Mrs. Dolly. Silvestro was in complete command of her stage and her audience throughout. The audience loved her. I loved her singing in such numbers as “I Put My Hand In,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Hello, Dolly,” and “So Long, Dearie.”

Pat Schoenberger played Vandergelder, the owner of Vandergelder Hay and Feed Company, in his first Port Tobacco Players production. Vandergelder was the type of man who believed, “99% of people in the world are fools and the other 1% is in danger of contagion.” The question throughout the show is: Will he or won’t he marry Dolly?

Erich Engel-Cope was delightful as overworked Vandergelder Hay and Feed Company employee Cornelius Hackl. There was no doubt in Cornelius’ mind that he was ready to find love. Engel-Cope delivered earnest and convincing vocals in such musical numbers as “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and the memorable “It Only Takes a Moment” (to fall in love).

Engel-Cope and Wyatt Edwards, who played Cornelius’ colleague Barnaby Tucker, made a strong comic duo. Edwards gave Barnaby a younger brother vibe in contrast to Cornelius. I liked his singing in “Put On Your Sunday Clothes.” I liked watching Cornelius and Barnaby explore New York City for adventure and romance.

Rachel Taylor, Justin Hancock, Jenny Liese, Steven Howell, Elizabeth Campbell, Patrick Dolan, and Amanda Hastings in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Photo by Connie Murphy.

Cornelius’ and Barnaby’s respective love interests were Irene Malloy and Minnie Fay, played by Sarah Gravelle and Amina Dunn. Gravelle and Dunn showed their performing chops in “Dancing,” and Gravelle had a lovely solo in “Ribbons Down My Back.”

Jing Xi Qin had a convincing turn as put-upon maître d’ Rudolf Reisenweber. Jameer Fitzgerald showed some fancy footwork as Dolly’s friend Ambrose Kemper. I’ve never seen a character cry so much as Ermengarde, played by La Plata High School senior Elora Edwards.

I was amazed by the acrobatics of ensemble member Ian Trent, in his Port Tobacco Players debut. Demetri “Meech” Black was a good ensemble utility man, seemingly everywhere throughout the production.

Hunter Martin, Isaiah Wilson, Steven Howell, and Demetri Black in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Photo by Connie Murphy.

Simpson, who was also the choreographer, did an interesting thing with this show. Throughout the musical, the actors moved exaggeratedly, staccato-like, sometimes with swinging arms and legs. Those movements got laughs. In an elaborate scene with dancing waiters, Simpson had the players toss silver platters. Many of the jokes were farcical in tone.

The 1890s costumes were awesome: suits, bowler hats, and dresses. Ms. Dolly was dressed to the nines in all her scenes, especially with the red dress she wore in the titular number. Costume Designer Ashley Goodell did an impressive job.

In the second act, there’s a surprise set, reminiscent of singer Madonna’s “Material Girl” video, thanks to Set Designer Chris Magee. Many of the set changes were brilliantly and silently done behind a curtain. The city street backdrop had a 3D quality to it.

Melina-Rose Raynes, Justin, Hancock, Autumn Mallory, Bradley Evans, Aidan Cleary Evans, Isaiah Wilson, and Laila Franklin in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Photo by Connie Murphy.

Music Director Will Derr made Herman’s music flow flawlessly. The actors’ vocals matched the notes beautifully.

“There is nothing like sitting in a darkened theater and being transported and swept into a new world…we allow our troubles to melt away, and are allowed to smile, laugh, cry, or all three,” said Simpson. I felt the energy in the audience when I saw this show. Be transported to the delightful 1890s yesteryear of Hello, Dolly! when you see it.

Hello, Dolly! plays through December 18, 2022, at Port Tobacco Players, 508 Charles Street, La Plata, MD. Tickets ($15–$20) can be purchased online.

COVID Safety: For all performances, masks are suggested but not required for audience members and front-of-house volunteers and staff.

Hello, Dolly!
Book by Michael Stewart
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder
Producer: Connie Murphy

CAST
Dolly Gallagher Levi: Tessa Silvestro
Horace Vandergelder: Pat Schoenberger
Cornelius Hackl: Erich Engel-Cope
Barnaby Tucker: Wyatt Edwards
Irene Malloy: Sarah Gravelle
Minnie Fay: Amina Dunn
Ermengarde: Elora Edwards
Ambrose Kemper: Jameer Fitzgerald
Ernestina Simple: Jeny Liese
Rudolf Reisenweber: Jing Xi Qin
Mrs. Rose: Rachael Howell

Ensemble
Elizabeth Campbell: Aidan Cleary Davis
Isaiah Wilson: Laila Franklin
Amanda Hastings: Bradley Evans
Caroline House: Justin Hancock
Rachael Howell: Steven Howell
Jenny Liese: Meech Black
Autumn Mallory: Hunter Martin
Melina-Rose Raynes: Ian Trent
Rachel Taylor: Jing Xi Qin
Nia Young: Carlton Silvestro

ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE TEAM
Director and Choreographer: Benjamin Simpson
Assistant Director: Kayle Bailey
Music Director: Will Derr
Costume Designer: Ashley Goodell
Costume Designer/Lead Dresser: Quentin Nash Sagers
Lead Dresser: Janice Nash Sagers
Costume Design Assistant: Heather Bauer
Set Design: Chris Magee
Properties/Set Decoration: Austin Kuhn
Hair and Makeup Design: Kaitelyn Bauer-Dieguez
Scenic Art Coordinator/Set Painter: Mike O’Shields
Lighting Design: Tommy Scott
Sound Design: Jason Klonkowski
Set Construction: Chip Murphy/Nick Summers
Dolly Costume Construction: Carol Russell