American flags billow patriotically on the repeatedly used and intricately painted backdrop for Hello Dolly, which features a street scene and a banner proclaiming "New York, 1896." The flags have 48 stars, a historical mistake (it should be 45) that would be trivial to point out if it weren't symptomatic of how this Stages St. Louis production veers off course. The devil is in the details, the saying goes, and here the details bedevil the show.
Starting with Dolly, played by Stages veteran Zoe Vonder Haar. Her good performance is just not detailed enough. If Dolly is a person who can excite an entire restaurant staff after an absence of ten years, she has got to be some kind of spectacular, unique character. Vonder Haar creates a Dolly who's likable but generic -- a description that could also describe much of Bob Del Pazzo's performance as Dolly's intended husband, Horace Vandergelder.
And then there are the exquisitely detailed dresses Dolly wears -- a new and more stunning gown for each scene. But the audience is told that Dolly is barely scraping by, surviving on matchmaking fees. So how does costumer Lou Bird rationalize these gorgeous confections? They're beautiful, as are the myriad other costumes Bird designed for this visually stunning show, but they don't make sense dramatically.
Instead of spending quite so much on costumes, Stages should have invested in a dialect coach. Here the details are distracting: Vandergelder occasionally sounds British; Mrs. Molloy (Kate Dawson) occasionally sounds Irish, but not when she sings; headwaiter Rudy (Steve Isom) wanders in accent exile somewhere between Germany and France.
Thankfully, a key quartet of players gets most of the details right. David Schmittou is delightful as Cornelius Hackl, the bumbling but sweet clerk out for an adventure in New York. When he meets beautiful hatmaker Irene Molloy, the attraction is clear and compelling. Dawson's beautiful voice soars on "Ribbons Down My Back" and harmonizes sweetly with Schmittou on "It Only Takes a Moment." Playing sidekicks Barnaby and Minnie are Patrick Garrigan and Melissa Bohon; Garrigan shines in "Dancing," while Bohon's giggles light up the theater throughout the production.
"Hello Dolly" is the show's most recognizable tune, but "The Waiter's Gallop" is the most anticipated dance. Utilizing the acrobatic skills of Dashaun Young and the seemingly inexhaustible energy of the male dancing chorus, choreographer Dana Lewis creates a dazzling number that builds appropriately to Dolly's entrance for the big title number. It's another niggling detail that the waiters are supposed to be Dolly's friends from ten years earlier and the waiters in this production all look about seventeen years old, but that's more easily overlooked than director Michael Hamilton's awkward staging of the climactic restaurant scene, which leaves the audience confused about why everyone is suddenly hauled in front of a judge.
Money plays a big part in Hello Dolly -- Vandergelder has too much and everyone else wants some. This theme continues in a well-meaning but poorly planned coda to the show. After the nicely staged curtain call (complete with yet another costume change for Dolly), Vonder Haar delivers a plea for contributions to the Red Cross for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Actors are posted at every exit with buckets, and all are encouraged to "give what you can." Stages needs to reconsider the timing and structure of this request. By positioning it at the end of the show, the company unintentionally appears selfish -- asking for money to support programming before the show and during intermission and offering no institutional gesture of support for the Red Cross. It ends the evening on an uncomfortable note -- another niggling detail in a production plagued by careless choices.