Sonoma Arts Live opens its 2018-2019 season with a powerhouse performance of an American musical comedy classic — “Hello, Dolly!” Set in New York in 1899, the play is based on Thornton Wilder’s farce “The Merchant of Yonkers” later revised and retitled as “The Matchmaker.”
David Merrick first produced the play, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, on Broadway in 1964. It won a record-tying 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a record held for 37 years.
The title character Dolly, made famous by Carol Channing, has been played by many other divas of the stage including Pearl Bailey, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman and currently, Bette Midler. “Hello, Dolly!” is a rich story with memorable music, an engaging female lead and a happy ending.
The star of SAL’s production is Dani Innocenti-Beem, winner of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics award for her portrayal of Madame Rose in the 2017 SAL production of Gypsy. “My family’s 100 percent Italian,” Innocenti-Beem said. “I grew up listening to opera and I studied classical music. Then, while attending San Rafael’s Kiddie Vaudeville program, a performer came on stage and sang “Over the Rainbow.” I turned to my mother and said, “I want to sing like that.” Singing songs requiring a big voice and performing in musicals became her career. She played Dolly in her senior high school production taking cues from Barbra Streisand who starred in the film adaption.
“I watched that movie many times on my VHS recorder,” Innocenti-Beem said. “Underneath Dolly’s meddling, she’s very sweet and caring. She drives the story. She puts in motion everything that happens.”
Dolly Levi’s a high energy, lovable, meddling matchmaker who seeks to find romance for others — and herself. After grieving over the death of her beloved husband Ephraim, she’s ready to live again. She deftly schemes to get the attention and affection of the unmarried, grumpy, “half-a millionaire” Horace Vandergelder.
Tim Setzer plays the cantankerous Horace. It’s his fourth SAL performance. He performed alongside Innocenti-Beem in “Gypsy” and was nominated for a SF Bay Area Critics Award for his role as Herbie. Setzer came to singing early. He grew up in a family that regularly listened to Broadway music. In “Dolly” he sings “It Takes a Woman,” a light-hearted song with lyrics that reflect Horace’s views of the ideal wife. In Dolly, he gets so much more.
Michael Ross, the show’s director, is well known to Sonoma audiences. He previously directed “Gypsy” and the sold out, “Always, Patsy Cline.”
“A challenge for a director is in assembling a good cast,” said Ross. “In ‘Hello, Dolly!’ we’ve done that. I feel fortunate to be working with such a talented group of performers. And Dani and Tim have such an on-stage chemistry. They’re the perfect pairing for Dolly and Horace.”
The show’s much anticipated moment comes when Dolly, after a long absence, returns to the elegant restaurant Harmonia. Excitedly the waiters whisper, “She’s back!” Dolly appears at the top of the stairs in a fancy gown. Plumes of feathers adorn her hair. She does a slow turn and saunters down the staircase singing the show’s beguiling theme song. The cast of admirers responds… “Hello, Dolly, it’s so nice to have you back where you belong.” Audiences will agree that “Dolly” definitely belongs — in Sonoma.
When: 7:30 p.m. on Oct.6, 11-13 and 18-20
2 p.m. matinees on Sundays October 7, 14 and 21.
Tickets: Online at sonomaartslive.org or at the Sonoma Community Center box office.
Where: Sonoma Community Center