The Indiana University Festival Theatre’s bow to Americana is Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. Yes, it’s the play the musical Hello Dolly is based upon. Starchy widowed business man Horace Vandergelder, David Kortemeier is in search of a wife and he’s brought lady of all trades Dolly Gallagher Levi, Jenny McKnight in to help smooth the way.
Horace is a man of many concerns. He worries about his business. He suspects that his hard working and loyal clerks are shirking. His niece wants to marry and artist. He’s concerned that his hair is getting a bit gray and he’s toying with the idea of a second marriage. Kortemeier’s Horace was by turns nicely commanding and equally nicely befuddled.
McKnight’s Dolly mixed the pathos of a single woman in a male society with a very creative willingness to take chances, to improvise and best of all to have as much fun out of life as possible. Dolly does indeed smooth Horace’s way, but not before aplot that both makes fun of and delights in the complications of 19th century theatre ravels and unravels.
Horace tries unsuccessfully to outwit that niece, who wants to marry the painter. He gets more than fooled by a couple of his rambunctious but loyal clerks, the innocently clever Benjamin Abbott and Thomas Beaver. And he misses out on the lady he had an eye on, a milliner, the exotic Evelyn Gaynor.
At Saturday night’s performance things developed in the first act, but really heated up in the second. Laugh lines got their due and the drama never paused except for an occasional breath. Ken Ferrell as Malachi Stack, Vandergelder’s new jack of all trades and master of none was a hit with his homily on vices. His final counsel being that a person should stick to one and that his choice was drink. Andrea Mellos as the slightly southern, slightly kinky Miss Flora Van Huysen commanded the stage and everyone else as she aided and abetted the miscreant lovers and clerks.
Event-tually…the word does literally mean after lots of events…in an ending slightly too good to be true but acceptable on the terms offered. The scales of male chauvinism fall from Horace’s eyes and he begs Dolly to marry him. He blesses the union between his niece and her painter. His clerks one of whom wishes to marry the exotic milliner and the other who’s stuck on her assistant are raised to partner and managerial status.
Christopher Rhoton’s shiny tile and wood flooring, stained glass windows and the proudly New England style weather vane that tops if off nicely frame the scenes. Andrew Hopson has assembled a very pleasant mix of rags, sing alongs from the period and waltzes for the sound design. Katie Cowan Sickmeier’s costumes, striking on the ladies and handsome on the gentlemen are an attractive part of the whole nicely produced package. Supervising the comic comings and goings is director Dale McFadden.
The Matchmaker continues in the Indiana Festival Theatre’s repertoire with Much Ado about Nothing through July 28. Island Song, Premiere Musicals’ new musical in works shop plays August 22-25.