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Open Features: A Sparkling "Hello Dolly''

David Marsh presents an enthusiastic review of a performance of “Hello Dolly’’ by the amateur music-making group GLOC Musical Theatre, formerly Greenford Light Opera Company.

David, himself a musician, is a maker of ani8mated cartoons. To see some of the click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/david_marsh_cartoons/

Doubtless it is possible that an amateur music-making group could be too focussed, therefore so specialised and inward-looking that there is a lack of awareness of audience preferences.

Such is not the case with St. Matthews Choir, Ealing, and I have been one of their groupies for two or three years, going to most of their concerts, even joining them to sing in the odd concert, time permitting. The good thing about this choir (affectionately known as “St. Matt’s”) is that most of them do “something else” as well as choral singing. Thus it is that I am also a fan of GLOC Musical Theatre, formerly Greenford Light Opera Company, an enthusiastic and outgoing group who tend to make one forget the word “amateur” during their performances. Many of the choir members are also involved with GLOC.

They put on two shows a year, one a complete musical and the other a selection. The pace of the latter has to be seen to be believed, so many people are involved that one chorus can disappear to be replaced immediately by another complete with new soloists. Part of the impact stems from their being rich in talented “hoofers” and choreographers, and I come away determined to try animated cartoons with a dancing element. Add to this that the audience is arranged in tables, beer and other beverages are available, and half way through the evening a wagonload of fish and chips and chicken tikka arrives for our consumption, and I would be surprised if anyone did not have a marvellous time at these events.

Their complete musical this year was “Hello Dolly” at the Questors Theatre, Ealing. By now I recognise many of their regular performers by sight, some through St. Matthews Choir, some from previous productions, and some from other societies from up to thirty years back! This presentation was “feel-good” from start to finish, and I will attempt to convey some general impressions of the show from the point of view of the audience. As a review it will be a little lop-sided and will not mention every good performance, but at least we can open chronologically, starting with the overture.

The band was conducted by Ken Williams, who is also rehearsal pianist for St. Matt’s Choir. Only later I noticed in the programme that two of the violinists in the band were Fenella Humphreys and Kate Turner. I have had the good fortune to play chamber music with these two ladies and I found them sensitive players who hold a group together well - it is not enough to be technically competent, there is a dimension to chamber music that defies description, but without awareness of this dimension, one might as well not even try. Under Ken’s Baton, the overture made a lively start to the evening.

From the first scene, the wealth of talent began to unfold. Dolly Levi, the “meddler”, a widow looking to re-marry and spend someone else’s money “like manure, spreading it around to make young things grow”. I am sure it is all too easy to make Dolly unsympathetic, manipulative and rather patronising towards the lower orders such as waiters and other beneficiaries of her vicarious largesse. Not this Dolly, however, Karen Anstiss brought her own special magic to her interpretation; well, yes, manipulative, perhaps, but condescending, no! This Dolly was sincere and really believed that spreading wealth around was a worthy activity. Without a husband she has a number of mini-enterprises appropriate to someone who lives by her wits, and I was amused by the flourish with which she produced a constant succession of business cards for her many activities. Dolly has always seemed to me someone to beware of but thanks to Karen I now find her quite likeable.

Over to Horace Vandergelder’s hay and feed store to meet the unsuspecting target of Dolly’s plans. Very careful with money, dedicated to the business, keeping his staff on short commons by promoting them to greater responsibility with no attendant increase in wages, Nick King’s Horace was a picture of an unsuspecting future henpecked husband. Not so in real life of course, Stephanie King was in the chorus, and in St. Matt’s she is an excellent video director for the choir’s wonderful video clips and DVDs.

Horace has a long-suffering, frequently promoted and permanently under-remunerated chief clerk, Cornelius Hackl, a reminder if ever there was one that you can’t eat a fancy job-title. With the store assistant, Barnaby Tucker we have a first-rate comedy pair, wanting to be young men-about-town, with brandy tastes and beer money. Colin Smith and Matt Marchant had us eating out of their hands, appropriately for feed-store employees possibly. Colin is also familiar as a producer and actor in the Ealing Shakespeare Players (I said these people did more than one thing) and it was a change to see him in this light-hearted role, in which he was more than credible.

Now to young widow Mrs. Irene Molloy’s New York city hat shop, which she runs with her assistant Minnie. The sparkling duo Karen Benny and Lorraine Wright played the pair, later to be linked romantically to Cornelius and Barnaby. Karen also sings soprano in St. Matthew’s Choir, her voice is high, bell like and beautifully in tune. Her husband David was in the chorus for “Dolly”, and one of life’s great mysteries is how he conceals his long, raven locks for these productions. The answer is under a short wig, but the result still defies belief. He is of course the video “techmeister” for the brilliant clips and DVDs of the St. Matthew’s concerts. In addition he is the current chairman of GLOC.

It is time to mention the dancing. Throughout the show the numbers were pacy, sparkling and lively, polished to perfection by Sian Bowles-Bevan with the aid of Martin Wilcox and Paul Aylett. Paul played struggling artist Ambrose Kempner, and although Sian did not have a major role on this occasion, she had much to do with the total impact of the dancing element. When I mentioned to Sian after the show how much I enjoyed the dancing, she remarked how proud she was of the men, who had worked very hard to get the dance sequences right. Particularly impressive was the Waiters’ Gallop in the scene at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, and I was always delighted by a step in the polka where the man lifts the woman bodily from the ground and swings her in a great semi-circle. Not one lady was ever dropped!

I remember Sian from my times with Southall Operatic Society, particularly as Helen of Troy’s maidservant in “La Belle Helene”, with her father Dr. Anthony Bowles-Bevan as musical director. Known to one and all as “Bev” he is a musician’s musician if ever there was one!

In American folk tales about mythical beasts, there is one known as the “Squonk”, which takes its place alongside the upland trout, the axe-handle hound and the hoop snake. The Squonk is best described as lachrymose, tending to burst into tears. A story is told of one being caught and tied up in a sack. When its captor reached home, he could find nothing in the sack apart from a few tears into which the doleful creature had apparently dissolved. To my mind, Betty Crockford as Vandergelder’s tearful niece Ermengarde had been coached by a genuine squonk. She did not so much burst into tears as explode into tears, her tearfulness was a joy to behold if one can say that.

At the restaurant Cornelius and Barnaby are dining with Irene and Minnie, but have no idea how they will pay the bill. Meanwhile Dolly has skilfully insinuated herself as Horace’s companion and started her marriage campaign by saying she would never marry him. Horace accidentally drops his wallet which is picked up by Cornelius in error, but he soon pays the bill with the contents. Horace picks up Cornelius’ wallet and finds a dollar in it. Accusation and counter accusation lead to a trip to the courts, but all is resolved by Dolly who acts as a skilful advocate and gets everyone off except Horace who is found guilty and ordered to pay damages.

All is further resolved the next day at the Vandergelder Hay and Feed Store, all couples are paired off for marriage including Horace and Dolly. Cue for a grand finale followed by rapturous applause and many curtain calls for the wonderful performances..

I am eagerly looking forward to GLOC’s autumn production, the “All Night Strut” celebrating some 1930s and 1940s numbers. With the interval food, will it be the Apotheosis of the Dance, or the Apotheosis of the Fish-and chip supper ? Probably both !

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