The Garden Theater
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Michael Stewart
Directed by Joseph C. Walsh
Choreographer: Lindsey D. Smith
Starring Shonda L. Thurman, Brian Minyard, Reid Canal, and Sarah Isola
It’s been 6 months since my last show, and I’ve been underwhelmed by streaming entertainment. That alone makes this show special; there was no software to download or secret browser settings to adjust. A classic “Over The Top” musical was just what we need. Forgive me if you’ve seen this before, but Dolly Levi (Thurman) contracts with miserly Cornelius Hackl (Stephens) to provide him with a suitable wife. Several girls auditioned and failed, and since he’s picky and rich Dolly decides to wed him, if just to get the steady income. Mr. Hackl heads down from Yonkers to New York City to march in a parade and an interview his next potential bride. Hackl’s put-upon staff, Ambrose (Reid Canal) and Barnaby (Anthony Morehead) are fed up with the low pay and long hours and they take the next train themselves. They plan to see the sights even though they are broke, and their goals are modest: visit the stuffed whale at Barnum’s Museum, and maybe even get a glimpse of Barnum’s famous “Egress.” But everyone ends up in a hat shop run Ermengarde (Isola) as a comedy of errors ensues. They all end up at the most expansive restaurant in New York. There Dolly gets her Hackl, Ambrose gets a partnership, and Ermengarde gets a better man than she contracted for. And as for Barnaby…well, he can go see the whale next week.
All this is well executed on a clever set, but the real show stopping moment comes with the big “Dance of the Waiters” at the Harmonium Restaurant. I never got a good count of the dancers, they may have been 12 or so, but they come very, very close to hitting every high point of Harry Stradling Sr.’s original film choreography. The jumps, spins and plate passing was superb, and it would have bought the house down if we only had a few more seats to sell. The chemistry between Thurman and Stephens work well, but you really cheer for Ambrose as he danced around the tables with Ermengarde. Even with masks, we had a good, clear sound, and some of the masks had faces painted on them, an effect I still find unsettling.
The Garden Theater takes good care to impose solid anti-Covid rules, the only place I thought things were a bit dicey was the men’s room and its crowd of old guys with prostrate issues and a few beers in them. But down in the audience, the seating was well-spaced, the crowed entered from three entry ports, and there was no bar service or popcorn. A few more live shows are on my calendar, and there’s a fair chance that live theater might return to some semblance of normality. I’ll be glad to get away from Zoom and all those other online excuses for a show. Give me a mismatched wedding and stuffed whale any day, so long as it’s on a real stage.