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‘Hello, Dolly'; Grupo Fantasma 

The Rep, Dec. 7; Revolution, Dec. 8

Opening night at the Rep's production of “Hello, Dolly” felt like a triathlon of theater. Two hours of an unendingly upbeat production — dancing, singing, smiling, cartwheeling, parading and costume-changing — created a vibrant, circus-like atmosphere. The somersaulting and can-canning was impressive, if only for the athleticism and stamina it required. The cast earned its standing ovation.

Set in Yonkers and New York City circa 1890, the tale centers on Dolly, a meddling matchmaker driven by a desire to help others and to help herself to Horace Vandergelder and his riches. The musical is a smorgasbord of nostalgia. The world of “Hello, Dolly” is clean and near-perfect, like a village in a snow globe. It is also amusing in a zany fashion, full of elaborately drawn personalities — Vandergelder, the red-faced, ornery storekeeper, played by Ron Wisniski; Ernestina Money, amusing in her exuberance and lack of sophistication, beautifully acted by Michele Tauber; Cornelius and Barnaby, the slapstick comedy duo, executed with liveliness and great comedic timing by James Donegan and Jason Edward Cook. Cook, as the 17-year-old, wide-eyed, innocent Barnaby was especially endearing.

And of course, there is Dolly, played with equal parts softness and toughness by Mary Robin Roth. Roth's singing was one of two notable vocal performances of the evening (the other being Maria Couch, playing Irene).

Roth won the audience over when she performed “Before the Parade Passes By.” In a glittering red gown, fiery feathers standing tall in her hat, she sang of her determination to live passionately, and the crowd responded with cheers and fervent applause.

The costumes, overseen by Rafael Colon Castanera, were dazzling and colorful — a moving, singing candy dish.

Dolores Alfieri

Saturday night, a small crowd at Revolution had only to pay a low $6 cover for easily one of the best live performances in Little Rock this year. Grupo Fantasma, an 11-piece Austin-based orchestra, played two enthralling sets of hip-shaking Latin funk. Well, it at least inspired visions of hip-shaking. An empty-ish room is a powerful deterrent for dancing, and for most of the first set, despite encouragement from the band (even a “there's no wrong way to dance”), most butts remained glued to the seats above the pit. Maybe everyone was too captivated by the activity onstage. By the numbers, there was a four-piece horn section, four percussionists (including one on timbales and another on congas) and three guitarists. Everyone stayed in the pocket. The jams never got wanky or meandering, and when the conga player or guitarist took a solo turn, they didn't outstay their welcome.

Funk-infused cumbia, merengue, salsa and mambo — genres separated by distinctions I couldn't have picked out without handy pre-song tips from the band — eventually overpowered the crowd's disinclination to dance by the second set (a little liquid confidence probably didn't hurt either). My wife even dragged my awkward, arrhythmic ass out for a couple of songs. The band made a point to thank everyone dancing after every song.

Do not miss Grupo Fantasma the next time they come to town.

Lindsey Millar
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