Audiences for "Hello, Dolly!" know what they're getting into. And if by chance they don't, Tantallon Community Players director Dick Reed is candid about what to expect from the show, a production of which opened Friday at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington. In the play's program he describes it as "just fluff. A nice bit of fluff with some good tunes, but fluff nonetheless."

The musical, based on Thornton Wilder's 1954 play, "The Matchmaker," and featuring lyrics by Michael Stewart and music by Jerry Herman, has a distinct cotton candy quality. But there's something to be said for frivolity. Especially when actress Laurie Dunlap imbues the play's title role with such cheek and wit.

Dolly Levi is a busybody who sets her sights on marrying wealthy store owner Horace Vandergelder (John Scheer). But before she can snare Vandergelder, she has to get rid of his fiancee, a wealthy widow. Hoping to sabotage the loveless union, Dolly contrives a scheme in which she pretends to play matchmaker for Vandergelder, inadvertently disrupting his life and inciting rebellion among the people he's mistreated over the years.

All of which, as you might imagine, creates an ideal showcase for slapstick humor and lively show tunes.

Dunlap's buxom Dolly steals every scene in which she appears. Her booming voice, exaggerated movements and cartoonish facial expressions seem excessive at first, but it's not long before the audience is literally cheering Dolly on in her dubious quest.

Scheer's Vandergelder is initially a bit stiff, but his character ultimately comes across as a lovable--if somewhat pathetic--old grouch. As one of Vandergelder's addled store clerks, Christopher Gerken turns in a lively portrayal of a nitwit. Gerken and fellow clerk Ric Herrera make the most of the play's considerable physical comedy. Another standout is recent Oxon Hill High School graduate Banafsheh Wallace as Minnie Fay; Wallace demonstrates a poise, humor and comfort onstage rarely found in so young a performer. There are weak spots here, too. Persis Sosia's perpetual weeping as Ermengarde registers less as sorrow than a series of shrill, blood-curdling screams.

The production loses momentum as it passes the two-hour mark, but the play's final plot twist renews the cast's vigor and allows for a rousing finale. A nice bit of fluff, indeed.

"Hello Dolly!" runs through June 20 at the Harmony Hall Regional Center, 10701 Livingston Rd., Fort Washington. Shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; at 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors. Call 301-292-2839.

CAPTION: As Dolly Levi, actress Laurie Dunlap steals every scene in which she appears.