Following on from last year’s triumphant production of Titanic, Southern Light Opera Company finally disembark in the ship’s original destination: New York. What else for, but one of the most celebrated musicals of all time Hello, Dolly! The quintessential meddler, Ms Dolly Levi is talented in all forms of matchmaking, interference and even mandolin instruction. Seeking a match for a gloomy half-millionaire, Dolly finds herself strolling down memory lane entangled in a grand scheme to help the many, the few and of course, herself.
With over fifty dedicated performers on stage, the risk of overcrowding can be a burden, though apart from the odd spacing issue, Southern Light has blocked, staged and directed meticulously. Before the curtain even ascends, the immense sparkling heart informs us that this will be no ordinary amateur dramatic production.
Taking a role and grasping it as your own is no mean feat in a large company. Yet this is precisely what John Bruce and Tanya Williamson manage to accomplish as Hackl and Irene Molloy. Ribbons Down My Back may not be the titular number, nor even one the audience is anticipating the most but after Williamson’s performance it is easily a standout piece. Bruce’s comedic strengths are highlighted by his likability, though there is an issue with strained vocals at peak moments.
Now how could one discuss Hello, Dolly! without mentioning the fine lady herself? Lothian’s very own Elspeth Whyte lives up to be the am-dram world’s Carol Channing. Moving into her twenty-seventh production with Southern Light, Whyte is a reliable performer who delivers everything in her performance. Her Dolly is cunning, yet still sweet enough to root for success. Vocally she is emotive, conveying a sense of great control, if a little low on the belt factor.
A musical is only as successful as its orchestral backbone, and Hello, Dolly! certainly has a rigid one to rely on. Two faults which can never be flung at Southern Light is that of its scoring and design aesthetic. The level of detail, ingenuity and effort goes well above that of am-dram and certainly puts some touring productions of larger-scale names into place.
Southern Light Opera has always embraced a challenge, seeking to push itself further with each passing year. Hello, Dolly! certainly lives up to recent years and stirs up curiosity for what the company will create next. A prodigious sense of local community is at the heart of Southern Light, with a deep admiration for theatre; it’s a proud institution for the city.