"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Dec. 7-Jan. 6
7 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
2 p.m. Sun.
The holiday season is upon us, which means it's time for the Rep to roll out its annual lavish musical production. This year, more than 30 actors will sing and dance their way through one of the most indelible musicals in the history of the stage, “Hello, Dolly!” With what director Brad Mooy describes as a “message of generosity that runs parallel to the holidays,” the musical follows the meddlesome matchmaker Dolly Levi, who arrives in 1890s Yonkers, N.Y., ostensibly to find a mate for her client Horace Vandergelder, a prominent and wealthy bachelor, though it soon becomes clear that Dolly actually plans to set herself up with the widower to use his money for good works.
Longtime stage veteran Mary Robin Roth plays the title role. This marks her third appearance at the Rep, having previously played Miss Hannigan in “Annie” and Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” “I've played strong women — lots of meat and guts and potatoes,” Roth says with a laugh. “But Dolly isn't just strong, strong, strong, she's vulnerable and funny.”
She's also the clear focus of the musical, singing classics like “Motherhood March” and “Hello, Dolly!” and dancing and running through dialogue. When a writer suggests that the role might be exhausting, Roth laughs and says that she's “an energetic person,” a characterization Mooy echoes. “Once she's on, she seizes it and goes. It's a sort of whirlwind-infused style.”
To prepare for the role, Roth says she explored “The Matchmaker,” the Thornton Wilder play on which the musical is based. Itself an adaptation of Wilder's own “The Merchant of Yonkers,” which flopped upon initial release, “The Matchmaker” included an expanded role for Dolly and was an immediate hit onstage in 1955. Three years later, it was made into a 1958 film starring Shirley Booth.
Adapted (again) into a musical by Jerry Herman and starring Carol Channing, “Hello, Dolly” was a smash when it opened in 1964; the musical went on to win 10 Tony Awards and become one of Broadway's biggest hits.
For all its antiquated manners and styles, “Dolly” remains relevant today for its optimistic message, Mooy says. “It's an incredible family show, visually, musically and with terrific dancing.”
It certainly remains a show actors long to perform. More than 1,500 responded to a casting call with pictures and resumes — more than the Rep has ever received for one show. From there, Mooy siphoned the number down to near 350 and held a three-day audition in New York.
The company and crew certainly get their workout. There are six large sets, and with more than 170 costumes, including 150 hats, this is one of the theater's largest costume and prop shows. The ensemble pulls double duty, singing and dancing, getting what Mooy calls a “workout vocally and aerobically.”
“Hello, Dolly” opens on Friday, Dec. 7, and runs through Sunday, Jan. 6. Note that the show's 7 p.m. curtain times are earlier than other productions in the season.
Congratulations Tara, beautifully written!