Karen Nelsen, who plays Dolly in St. Thomas Playhouse’s upcoming production, poses with the children’s ensemble of “Hello, Dolly!”
Courtesy photo by Heather Black
Traumatic events, such as the loss of a spouse, often cause people to become disconnected from life and society. It can take months, years or decades to reintegrate. St. Thomas Playhouse’s production of “Hello, Dolly!” explores overcoming these tribulations and plugging back into civilization.
“Hello, Dolly!” is a Tony Award-winning musical based on Thornton Wilder’s classic play “The Matchmaker.” The musical originally starred Carol Channing and won a record 10 Tony Awards in 1964.
Veteran Seattle actress Karen Nelsen plays Dolly in the upcoming production from Oct. 16-19 in Ketchum. She said the musical is about “an older gal coming back to life.”
The catalyst for the musical is the return of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widowed matchmaker and known “meddler” who has come back to Yonkers, N.Y. Dolly makes her living through arranging marriages and is currently seeking a wife for the grumpy, well-known half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder (played by Tim Eagan). It soon becomes clear that her real intention is to marry Horace herself, in addition to setting up three other couples along the way.
Director R.L. Rowsey elaborated on the musical’s characters.
“The first perception can be that Dolly is a little crazy,” he said. “We meet all the characters and we can define them right away—wimp, airhead, mean ... and then you go, ‘Oh, there are more layers!’ It’s so easy to judge a book by its cover but you have to stick around long enough to find out what these characters are really about.”
Famous songs from Jerry Herman’s original score include “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “It Only Takes a Moment” and, of course, the title song, “Hello, Dolly!” Several songs from the musical were sampled in Pixar’s “WALL-E.”
Guest artist Peter Burke, a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, plays Cornelius and leads one of the most well-known songs in the musical theatre cannon.
“The opening of ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ is one of my favorite moments in all of American musical theater. Peter singing it so simply and beautifully is magical,” Rowsey said.
Dorinda Rendahl, musical director, loves Dolly’s song “Before the Parade Passes By.” Dolly’s powerful and moving speech about rejoining the human race launches her into the Act 1 finale.
“I think that moment will really touch people who have become unplugged—there’s more of them than we realize,” Rendahl said. “The chord structure and tempo changes evoke a march that builds, and builds, creating a beautiful parade right in front of your eyes.”
Rowsey stressed the relevance of the musical.
“It’s about someone who was unplugged, plugging back in. Lots of people in the community have been recently widowed—and some people step away for a bit for all different reasons. But plugging back in is good,” he said.
K.O. Ogilvie, the set and lighting designer for the show, drew inspiration from the architecture and themes of the train station mentioned in the musical.
“I kept being drawn to the north train station in Yonkers,” she explained. “It’s got this enormous window and is very industrial. We wanted to keep the set industrial so the colors of the costumes and people, especially Dolly, would shine though.”
The best part of the production, according to the creative team, is “watching people in the cast who are having the time of their life,” Rowsey said.
Community theater allows people who dabble in theatre, people who have never done theatre, people who admire theater, and people who have invested their lives in theater to all collaborate in one room.
“I mean you look around the room and there’s such a mixture of folks—the gifts that every single one of them bring to the table … it’s why I love community theatre,” Rowsey said.
“The community, as rich as it is, would have a hole without St. Thomas and the people who support it like Sara Gorby [education/production director]. Her dedication and commitment for the long haul has been profound, so it’s great to see her onstage,” Rowsey said.
Gorby plays the widow Irene Molloy, and is the choreographer for the show.
The creative team hopes the musical will help audiences forget what’s going on in the news for a few minutes, make them want to hold hands with the person next to them, and give them another tool to address a conflict with compassion.
“Hello, Dolly!” runs October 16-19, with nightly performances at 7 p.m. and matinées at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. All shows will be at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum.
Visit www.stthomasplayhouse.org or call the box office at 726-5349, ext. 15, to purchase tickets. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for teens and $10 for children.