By ERIC MCCREA
Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” staged by The Victorian Players, is the basis for the hit musical “Hello, Dolly!”
The play has the beloved characters we all know, most notably Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder, but also has a few characters that didn’t make it onto Broadway.
The story is familiar. Horace, a Yonkers shop owner, enlists the aid of Dolly Levi, born Gallagher, his late wife’s closest friend, to find him a new wife with whom he can share his considerable fortune.
The wise widow Levi uses her skill to get him the bride that’s perfect for him. It takes a trip to New York City and some mischief to get the job done.
We begin by meeting Horace, played by Terry Shears, hiring Malachi Stack, a character dropped from the musical, played by C. Richard Haldi, who is quickly dispatched to the Big Apple to make arrangements for Horace’s marriage proposal to hatmaker Irene Molloy.
Dolly Levi enters, played by the incomparable Denise Sculli, throwing a wrench in Vandergelder’s plans, by switching his focus to a nonexistent heiress by the name of Earnestine Money, who is perfectly designed to sway the greedy shopkeeper’s intentions.
When he’s not looking, Dolly also meddles with Horace’s niece Ermengarde (Brittiani McNeil Ketcham) and her beau Ambrose Kemper (Tom Smith), who wants to elope.
The ensemble is followed to New York by shop employees Cornelius Hackl (Carl Brockway) and Barnaby Tucker (Cory Fowler), who make the trip on a budget of less than five dollars.
Once in New York, the audience meets milliner Irene Molloy, played by Linda McGrath, and her innocent assistant Minnie Fay, portrayed by Catie Groubert.
Hilarity ensues, and by the end of the show, the audience is graced with a few more unfamiliar characters, such as Flora van Huysen and her cook, both brought to life in a very animated fashion by Terri Wilkes and Gerri Jenkins.
Throughout the show, the audience is pulled in with Wilder-esque play with the fourth wall, and a persistent theme that life is for adventure.
(This reviewer’s favorite moral was delivered by Malachi: “One vice is enough.”)
The play requires the actors to pair well, and director Marlene Menaldi Strollo had no difficulties doing that with her impressive cast.
The first two acts were at times a bit slow, but the show was redeemed by a phenomenal third act, set in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant.
Sculli and Shears shine in a way that would make their “Hello, Dolly!” Hollywood counterparts tip their hats.
Bill Finley delivers an impeccable performance as Rudolf, the waiter, and the youthful Fowler is impressive, even when asleep.
Brockway and McGrath ease into flirtation in a way that feels natural, and even add a song. Sam Luptak Jr. playing Joe, the cabman and C. Richard Haldi add some great laughs as a drunken duo.
Wilkes and Jenkins complemented each other well, and added warmth to the show in a way that brought to mind some classic Disney characters.
Ketchum’s Ermengarde was unimpressive until the fourth act when she proved she could hold her own with a cast of great veterans.
The set was more of a distraction than an enhancement, and the scene changes were a bit tedious.
At some point, almost all the actors showed signs of forgetting lines, but their collective 100-plus years of experience served them well, and they recovered quickly, keeping the show moving.
“The Matchmaker” runs at the Victorian Players Theater on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until Sept 29. For reservations, call 330-746-5455.