In the title role, Anita Dobson treads in the footsteps of Streisand and Merman, strengthening the perception that good actresses make each character their own, on this occasion aided by several grand costume changes. Dobson’s enthusiasm for the stage brings the match-making meddling of the exasperating Dolly Levi to life. Her playful style of acting has the audience bellowing with laughter as she mimes the muscles rippling on Horace’s chest and struggles to finish a mouthful of roast meat before she addresses the judge at the Night Court after an evening of merriment gets out of hand.
The chaos commences at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, New York, where Dolly returns in stately fashion wearing a feather headdress and a glittering gown to where she belongs. Horace’s jumped-up clerk Cornelius Hackl has abandoned his duties in Yonkers to enjoy the fine life of New York; champagne, Neapolitan ice cream and hot house peaches all served in the Restaurant during ‘The Waiters’ Gallop’. Hackl and his sidekick seek to impress the two enchanting young ladies they have just met but neither has the finances to cover the bill.
In addition to the stellar dance routines that include tap dancing, grand parade marching and a spirited polka competition, Darren Day delivers a star turn as Hackl, leaving the audience utterly convinced he is deeply in love with Irene. His vocals in ‘It Only Takes a Moment’ are perfect and his gift at portraying any character he chooses through the medium of musical theatre is astounding. Louise English plays his girl, Irene Molloy, rendering a bittersweet version of ‘Ribbons Down My Back’, portraying a woman who yearns to move on from her grief. This is echoed by the sound advice blasted out into the audience before the interval in the rousing number, ‘Before the Parade Passes By.’
During the running time of two and a half hours, Dolly exasperates half millionaire Horace Vandergelder, owner of 'Yonkers’ Hay and Feed’ into marrying her and into bumping up the prospects of his clerks and their prospective young wives. It is moving when Vandergelder utters a slogan direct from the vocabulary of Dolly’s dearly departed Ephram, ‘Money is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around encouraging young things to grow.’ The convoluted plot is tied neatly together as Dolly feels Ephram is telling her to move on with her life. Like any piece of theatre worth its oats, the action is stuffed with well-known songs and familiar witty sayings. Put on your Sunday clothes and don’t come back until you fall in love!