Musical productions aren’t exactly virgin territory for Georgia Ensemble Theatre. Over the course of its 20-year career, the company has routinely put on the sort of revue-format shows that highlight the greatest hits of everyone from Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline to Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland.
Heaven knows there’s nothing very fresh or provocative about composer Jerry Herman’s 1964 classic “Hello, Dolly!” Who among the Roswell troupe’s older core audience hasn’t seen it before on stage or screen, or isn’t already familiar with its famous score?
Oddly enough, though, Georgia Ensemble’s “Dolly” is something of a bold move, a belated first step in tackling a big traditional Broadway blockbuster. Even better, for the most part it’s about as lively and entertaining as anyone could hope for from such an old show.
The chief asset in director Heidi Cline McKerley’s production is the sparkling performance of Courtenay Collins in the starring role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, an industrious “marriage broker” in 1880s New York. Charming and cunning in equal measure, with a resonant singing voice to match, Collins skillfully makes the iconic character her own.
The script, adapted by Michael Stewart from the Thornton Wilder play “The Matchmaker,” follows the widowed Dolly as she “meddles” in the romantic affairs of a clientele that includes a wealthy middle-aged businessman, his bratty young niece, one of his bumbling store clerks and a lovely but lovelorn milliner.
In addition to the title tune, other numbers in the show include “Before the Parade Passes By,” “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Elegance” and “It Only Takes a Moment.” Under the music direction of Bill Newberry, the 12-member cast is ably accompanied by a four-piece band. Jeff McKerley, the director’s husband, serves as choreographer and also gets a prime role as that clerk, Cornelius.
The actor’s patented shtick is a matter of personal taste and a little of it goes a long way. He usually comes on too broadly, but here the rest of the show seems to be pitched at the same manic level, playing up the slapstick rather than generating a real interest in the story or affection for the characters. (Even Stephanie Polhemus’ scenic design is a bit overdone, featuring a set of brightly painted, almost gaudy sliding flats.)
Musical theater will be musical theater, of course. Ultimately, it’s not as much about how or why Dolly might come to live happily ever after with the well-to-do Horace Vandergelder (a bland Daniel J. Cook) as it is the boisterously staged and performed songs.
Given the director’s pared-down ensemble, some of the supporting actors occasionally fill in as chorus members for the splashier numbers, quickly changing costumes (stylishly designed by Alan Yeong) or putting on a cheesy wig (by George Deavours). Mary Nye Bennett stands out as the earnest milliner, Irene.
Still, it’s very much Collins’ show. At this late date, Georgia Ensemble’s “Dolly” might not blow you away but, if nothing else, the actress’ star turn is bound to bowl you over.
Through April 28. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 4 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $25-$36. Georgia Ensemble Theatre (at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center), 950 Forrest St., Roswell. 770-641-1260.
Bottom line: A solid version of an old reliable, elevated by its classy leading lady.