Kristine Nielsen heads a thoroughly engaging ensemble in the Goodman's winsome revival of Thornton Wilder's truly romantic comedy.
Hello, Kristine! Dazzling comic actor Nielsen, a Tony-nominated staple on New York stages, makes her first Chicago appearance (not counting her undergrad career at Northwestern) as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Thornton Wilder's 1955 comedy of romantic manners, which we might as well go ahead and identify as the non-musical source material of Hello, Dolly! But while Wilder's original lacks Jerry Herman's score, it has a music of its own, which the delightfully daffy Nielsen, director Henry Wishcamper and a crack ensemble cast play beautifully.
Wilder's Dolly is a cockeyed optimist brought in by miserly widower Horace Vandergelder (Allen Gilmore), a shopkeeper in 1896 Yonkers, New York, to find him a new wife, even as he's trying to nix the true love between his niece, Ermengarde (Theo Allyn), and artist Ambrose (Ronobir Lahiri). Working without much of a plan, Dolly sets about to create three romantic matches, including her own.
Nielsen's lovely, layered performance is both wild and warm; with the help of Wilder's occasional direct-address sequences (the playwright was no fan of naturalism), Nielsen draws us in like eager co-conspirators. Wishcamper surrounds her with an able ensemble that also includes such appealing actors as Postell Pringle, Elizabeth Ledo, Behzad Dabu and Marilyn Dodds Frank (the latter nearly outdoes Nielsen in the loopy department in her late appearance as spaced-out socialite Flora Van Huysen).
That this ensemble, in a six-decade old play set six decades before that, is as casually inclusive in terms of race, ethnicity, ability and gender identity as any Loop lunch spot near the Goodman on a weekday shouldn't be remarkable but is. The Matchmaker makes a case study that Shakespeare and A Christmas Carol aren't the only classics that can benefit from letting modern audiences see all of ourselves in them. That's just one more reason, in modern matchmaking parlance, to swipe right on this thoroughly enjoyable production.
Goodman Theatre. By Thornton Wilder. Directed by Henry Wishcamper. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 45mins; one intermission.