The OI Review: Hello, Dolly! at Springfield Little Theatre

Review by Jason Wert

It takes a strong woman to inhabit the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! The role, written with Ethel Merman and her powerful voice as the inspiration, and made a signature role by Broadway legend Carol Channing in a Tony Award winning performance, takes someone who is the acting equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane.

Thankfully for Springfield Little Theatre, they have a lead actress who brings a tour de force performance to the Landers Stage in Kim Crosby.

Crosby brings to the Landers stage a level of performance that can only come from someone who has seen the footlights of Broadway; there is a crispness to her delivery of lines; a relaxed flow to her singing regardless of the song’s tone or intensity; and a presence that demands the viewer’s eye just by her movements on the stage.

Crosby’s work in Hello, Dolly! is a masterclass for anyone in local theatre who wants to see an expert at the craft at the top of her game; there is no way someone who wants to be a better actor will not find multiple things to use to improve their stage presence and delivery in Crosby’s performance.

Let’s put it this way: If Springfield has its own version of the Tony Awards, the race for Best Actress would be over and the other four nominees not named Kim Crosby would know they don’t even need to buy a dress for the award show.

In fact, Crosby’s performance is so good, it elevates the entire play and the performances of those around her. I have never seen a Springfield Little Theatre production where every single performer, tech crew member, and orchestra musician nailed their parts as completely as what I viewed last night.

You see, when I go to review a show, I try to find bad with the good because it’s rare to see a performance without at least one flaw; last night, Springfield Little Theatre brought perfection to the stage. Everyone from Crosby to the ensemble to whoever on the tech crew was controlling the intensity of the lights on the 1920s era look of the frame around the Landers stage.

In fact, the look the show from the stage design, to costumes, to lighting work appeared as if it was timewarped from the 1920s; you could almost believe the vaudeville acts that once graced the Landers stage were coming back to life. There was nothing that pulled an audience member away from the illusion of the play; this is not a small feat for a local theatre.

Now, the secret to Hello, Dolly! is more than just the lead character of Dolly; there is another supporting character with almost as much stage time as Dolly: Cornelius Hackl. This character is the driving force of the subplot in the show; thus you need someone in that role who is as strong as the main lead or at worst a notch below the main lead.

The original Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! set a standard for the role of Cornelius; the legendary Charles Nelson Reilly originated the part to earn a nomination for the Tony Award. I’m not afraid to admit I was more than a little surprised by Springfield Little Theatre’s casting of the role: not only is Clayton Avery a talented actor, he brought to the stage a performance of Cornelius that could be on par with Reilly’s original performance.

Avery’s stage movements, line delivery, and overall aura were so spot-on for the 1920s that you could see him standing beside Mickey Rooney, Bob Hope or Abbott & Costello. His performance would outshine any performance I’ve seen on the main Landers Stage in an SLT production save Crosby herself.

Avery pulls off the extremely rare feat of keeping the level of stage performance at a maximum level when the main lead is not on the stage.

Now, by nature, the other performances are not quite on the levels of Crosby and Avery; but they’re so strong they outshine some of the leads many other productions. I found myself wondering multiple times during the show if working with Kim Crosby during rehearsal directly impacted the performances.

As an example, the work of Hayden Gish as Minnie Fay and Kassandra Wright as Irene Molloy was so tight in comedic timing that you could almost see Crosby’s fingerprints on their work. There were multiple times I could hear the rhythm in their delivery that mimicked that of Crosby; and I mean that in the most complimentary sense.

Springfield Little Theatre is known for bringing high quality productions to the Landers; it’s known as a home for some of the best performances you will see in southwest Missouri.

This performance of Hello, Dolly! not only meets the standards of Springfield Little Theatre productions; it far surpasses them: this show is actually better than some of the touring Broadway shows that come to the Juanita K. Hammons Hall at Missouri State. Crosby’s work is flawless; Avery is astounding; there is not a single weakness anywhere in this show.

If you want to see theatre done right, then see this show.

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