The stage was set with a fairly simple set, a screen with projections at the back and an on-stage band. I assume that the budget for this year’s Christmas musical at Curve has a slightly lower budget than Gypsy earlier on in the year, as the vast stage seemed fairly bare although was heightened by colourful, nuanced costumes and some really detailed set pieces, including an effective, well-utilised staircase.
The highlight of the show, by far, is Janie Dee as the meddling but popular Dolly Levi. However, her performance was slightly flawed. Caroline O’Connor was originally billed to play Dolly before taking a role on Broadway and Dee’s rehearsals, I imagine, were flustered as she was performing in NSFW at the Royal Court whilst doing them. Although I have not seen the musical before, I did enjoy Dee in Noises Off and was expecting her to make of the strong, forward and busy-body nature of the character that the script suggests which would’ve compounded with the funny, persuasive and warm Dolly which she presented nicely. Furthermore, I couldn’t help wondering what O’Connor would have done with the role, perhaps belting the songs out more than Dee did, although Dee’s fairly low voice was excellent.
At times, the band overpowered the vocals and I was not always drawn in by the scenes which could have been put down to the rather large stage. The second act is by far the better one, with the first two scenes in particular being funny and warm. You certainly can see the elements of farce that the musical has drawn from the play The Matchmaker: the dancers were especially excellent in the restaurant sequence.
Apart from the widowed Dolly Levi trying to persuade Horace Vandergelder to marry her so that she can make him happy at the same time as spreading his money to make good, the story also follows his employees Cornelius and Barnaby going to New York to find themselves and a girl. I felt that more of a comic double act could have been made out of these two actors, portrayed by Michael Xavier and Jason Denton, but their naivety to the big city compared to them being grounded and in the dark (literally, they worked underground, making their first appearances from under the stage) was played well.
I didn’t think that the songs were particularly memorable but overall the show although feeling slightly lacklustre, was well directed by Curve’s artistic director Paul Kerryson and was provided with excellent, ‘drill-like’ choreography by David Needham.