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The Matchmaker - Murray Music and Drama

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Reviewed by Paul Treasure

 

Broadway has a long and glorious tradition of taking good plays and turning them into great musicals, from Green Grow the Lilacs (Oklahoma!) and Pygmalion (My Fair Lady), right up to C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and this year’s Tony Winner Kimberley Akimbo. It is uncommon to get the chance to experience one of these plays, especially when you are only familiar with it in its later musical incarnation. Ten years after producing Hello, Dolly!, Murray Music & Drama is giving us the rare treat of presenting the play that it was based on, Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, and a rare treat it is indeed.

The set design by Andy Peckover was very effective with a large screen at the rear of the stage, and the barest minimum of furniture that was actually required to set the scene. Each act started with a white screen, with the background being outlined like it was being drawn, and then filled in once complete. These projections, by Blake Jenkins, allowed the crew to change the scenes between the acts at a leisurely pace while being kept in silhouette. Once the scene was set, a couple of the scene changers would freeze in a pose, and as the lights came up, lo and behold, it was the actors ready for the next scene. These transitions were smoothly organized and charming to watch, and a credit to Stage Manager, Grace Crawford and her crew. The lighting was clean and effective, although at times actors were caught in shadows which meant we lost some of their faces, and some of the changes appeared to be a little bit behind the beat of what was happening onstage.


I am no expert in 19th-century American fashion, but the costumes, by Tammy Peckover and her team, all seemed to be appropriate and stylish, and none of them stood out as being wrong for the period. The ladies’ frocks, especially, were all attractive and well-fitted. The fascinating array of hats onstage during the second act in Irene Molloy’s Shop was delightful, and I could not fault the hairstyles of the major characters.

This production is Karen Godfrey’s second time around on this stage in the titular role of Dolly Levi Gallagher. I was not fortunate enough to see her ten years ago in Hello, Dolly!, so I am unable to compare the two, but I found her characterization interesting and refreshingly different from other Dollys I have seen. This role is usually played with confidence and single-mindedness, as Dolly organises every single detail to ensure she gets the outcomes she is after. Karen’s Dolly, however, is an agent of chaotic good, willing to tear down anything and everything to get a better result for everyone, and trusting implicitly that everything WILL work out for the best. The sheer glee that she shows as things spiral further and further out of control is delicious.

I have always felt that the heart of this story, in any of its various versions, lies not with Dolly, but with Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker. Alan Gill (Cornelius) and Steven Jones (Barnaby) are excellent in their roles. Cornelius’ overwhelming desire to get a chance to get out and LIVE, even if only for one day, was palpable in Alan Gill’s portrayal. Steven Jones was simply delightful in his timid and apprehensive Barnaby, worried about the implications of what they were getting up to, but also too afraid to be left behind. Both roles require impeccable comic timing and a quick, agile, and precise physicality that both Alan and Steven gave us with apparent ease. Lori Anders gave us an Irene Molloy that seemed to relish her chance to break out from the strictures society had placed her in, while Tess Withnell very quickly endeared herself to the audience as the delightful and irrepressible Minnie Fay.


Of the rest of the large cast special mention must be made of Abby Jennings as Ermengarde, who has apparently now mastered the art of crying on stage, as I do not think she has an entrance where she does not burst out crying at some stage. There were few weak links and on the whole, the cast all seemed to have a good grasp on their characters, with good comic timing and blended well.


It is hard to believe that this show is Rp van der Westhuizen’s directorial debut. One of the absolute strengths of this production was Rp’s eye for movement and stage pictures. The manic table-diving energy of the second act and the hilarious stacking of the romantic foursome against the screen in the garden were but two of the highlights. As my guest for the evening and I discussed at length on the drive home, Rp’s management of the stage space in his debut show was actually better than some other shows we have seen by far more experienced directors.

While the cast gave their all, occasionally someone would get carried away with what they are doing and not see when they are out of balance with their fellows. I think every actor did this at least once, and it meant there were plenty of potentially hilarious moments that were either swallowed up and disappeared, or were slightly overplayed and therefore unfunny. A tiny bit more effort into keeping the balance between all the actors may have made the show even funnier than it already was.


It is fascinating that a comedy that is 70 years old should actually be more relevant to an audience now than possibly any time in the last 50 years. With what we would call modern themes running just below the surface, themes like worker’s rights, work/life balance, the place of working women in society, and the morality of what to do with extreme wealth, the play could have been written only yesterday.


Murray Music & Drama have provided us with another delight. Rp van der Westhuizen should be well pleased with such a charming production that is a feast not only for the wit but for the eye as well. As Cornelius Hackl might say. The play was certainly pudding!


Vaughn Lowe (Horace Vandergelder), Karen Godfrey (Dolly Levi), Alan Gill (Cornelius Hackl) and Steven Jones (Barnaby Tucker). Image credit: Pippily Photography

Reviewer note: Paul has previously performed at Murray Music and Drama Club. He is a former Independent Theatre Association president. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.

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jordanpooleoolll
13. März

The Matchmaker by Murray Music and Drama promises to be a delightful theatrical experience, showcasing the talent and creativity of its performers. With Murray Music and Drama at the helm, audiences can expect a production filled with laughter, romance, and unforgettable moments. Read how to get into Discover Weekly and other algorithmic playlists here: https://artistpush.me/blogs/news/get-on-spotify-algorithmic-playlists

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