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Originally published Friday, September 27, 2013 at 5:14 AM

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Hello, Dolly: ‘Matchmaker,’ Taproot Theatre are well-suited

A review of “The Matchmaker,” Thornton Wilder’s comic romp in Old New York, which inspired the hit musical “Hello, Dolly!” Starring Pam Nolte, it’s at Taproot Theatre through Oct. 19, 2013.

Seattle Times theater critic

THEATER REVIEW

‘The Matchmaker’

By Thornton Wilder. Through Oct. 19 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle; $20-$40 (206-781-9707 or taproottheatre.org)

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The droll asides. That boisterous innocence of an America gone by. Characters confiding to us their desire for something more in life than drudgery, or complacency.

All are signs that Thornton Wilder wrote “The Matchmaker.”

Wilder was never content to repeat himself, so there’s none of the rural poignancy of his masterwork “Our Town” in this comic roundelay, nor any of the apocalyptic absurdities of “The Skin of Our Teeth.”

In the mid-1950s, the Pulitzer Prize-honored author surprised Broadway with this shiny gift of classic farce, American-style, which later inspired the hit musical “Hello, Dolly!”

Once it finds its groove, “The Matchmaker” dates well in Taproot Theatre’s genial revival. The production enjoyably conveys the high-spirited antics which, in Wilder’s words, permit “suspension of decorum and the retaliation of the underdog.”

There is a cluster of appealing underdogs here, and only one top dog.

The top underdog is Dolly Gallagher Levi, a briskly enlightened 1880s Manhattan widow played vivaciously and craftily by Pam Nolte. Mrs. Levi scrapes by as a fixer of various things, including matrimony. But she’s getting weary of the hustle, and when wealthy, insufferably cantankerous Yonkers merchant Horace Vandergelder (Robert Gallaher) hires her to find him a wife, Dolly has a prospect in mind — herself.

As Dolly plots and feigns, Horace’s browbeaten young minions Cornelius (Robert Hinds) and Barnaby (Brad Walker) rebel. On a lark, these wide-eyed innocents play hooky in New York City. As the farce wheel turns, they collide in a fancy Manhattan cafe and in the parlor of an excitable society matron (Kim Morris), with Horace and the shrewd Dolly as well as a feisty milliner, Irene Malloy (Natalie Anne Moe).

Naturally, hiding in closets, diving under tables and cross-dressing ensue.

Wilder approached farce as a mathematical challenge of “development, pattern and logic.” Borrowing from Wilde and Moliere, his own pattern made room for witty soliloquies and moral ambiguity, as well as archetypal gags and subterfuges.

He also tucked into “The Matchmaker” a critique of mercantile greed, of amassing wealth for its own sake. Dolly famously compares money with manure: The more cash spread around, the more misery it alleviates and joy it unleashes.

Director Scott Nolte adeptly arrays a sizable cast and their gags on Taproot’s cozy stage. Sarah Burch Gordon’s bustled, ruffled gowns for the ladies look marvelous. Mark Lund’s scenic backdrop, while picturesque, clashes with the interior locales. (The Harmonia Gardens bistro isn’t posh enough.)

One regrettable gap: The ensemble needs a more commanding Horace than Gallaher’s tentative, lackluster one. Too bad he doesn’t display the comic agility of his cohorts, especially Morris, the lovable Hinds and Walker, and Nolte’s winning Dolly.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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