Leave it to Tom Stoppard to establish that Dolly was never indispensable to Hello Dolly! In On the Razzle, which reworks the musical’s source material—a Viennese farce called Einen Jux will er sich machen, previously reworked by Thornton Wilder as both a Dolly-less flop (The Merchant of Yonkers) and a Dollyfied hit (The Matchmaker)—Stoppard places a pair of shop clerks who sneak off to have fun in the big city back at the center of a story they once dominated.
The musical’s Barnaby and Cornelius morph in Razzle into comic leads—romantic naïfs Christopher (Matthew McGloin) and Weinberl (Ashley Ivey)—who seek a bit of adventure, and get far more than they bargained for, in a series of near-misses with their shop’s peacock of a proprietor (Michael Glenn), his wayward niece (Jennifer Crooks), and her energetically dim boyfriend (Joe Brack). Where Jerry Herman augmented the story with music, Stoppard offers puns and wordplay (“Unhand my foot” is an early and reasonably representative example), and the piece rattles along amusingly, mixing cross-dressing, cross-purposes, miscalculation, misbehavior, and mistaken identities into a farcical soufflé.
Nick Olcott’s frenetic, ever-in-motion staging for Constellation manages to fluff up that soufflé promisingly on occasion, though it’s working so hard that it ultimately falls a little flat. And it probably doesn’t help that Razzle is opening less than a week after Folger’s The Comedy of Errors, which uses many of the same devices—masks, slamming doors, choreographed chases—more inventively. But, the problem may simply be over-reaching by an admirably ambitious troupe. With 23 characters and a half-dozen locales, Stoppard’s opus would be heavy lifting for a company with far greater resources. While Constellation’s cast is crisply effective in spots, it’s seriously ragged at the fringes; the director’s attempts to camouflage that fact by pacing everything at a gallop and orchestrating little frenzies of comic business that end with offstage sound effects don’t pay off.
Still, there are pleasures to be had from McGloin’s put-upon, wide-eyed shop assistant, whether his eyes are registering good fortune a few seconds late or are barely visible peeping over the collar of a purloined lady’s cloak. And Ivey has his moments as McGloin’s ever-so-slightly-more-worldly cohort, gamely struggling to preserve a smidgeon of dignity when caught in lie after lie by a widow (Heather Haney, smart and nuanced) he’s desperate to impress. Best of all, and a bit of a show in himself, is Glenn’s malaprop-prone shop owner, who has perfected a nifty trick of second-guessing his own verbal missteps, heading into them bravely at high speed, then slowing down almost imperceptibly on the final syllable, confusion clouding his gaze as he hears himself saying “he’ll alter you before the dessert” when what he means is “he’ll desert you before the altar.”