Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gary Beach's thoughts on Hello, Dolly!

Gary Beach as Horace Vandergelder and Vicki Lewis as Dolly Gallagher Levi tuck into some Harmonia Gardens chicken in 'Hello, Dolly!' at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. Alicia Donelan
Gary Beach just completed his second production of Hello, Dolly!, as Horace Vandergelder, this time at the Maltz Jupiter Theater, formerly Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre, down in Florida.
He co-starred opposite Vicki Lewis and was directed by Tony nominated (Ragtime) Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Burt Reynolds owned the dinner theater from 1979 until 1997. When it exchanged hands, the theater was reconfigured to become a proscenium theater. There were a lot of clever staging ideas in director-choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s fresh take on Hello, Dolly!
He will be returning to Vandergelder's Hay and Feed Store in June wjen he plays opposite Lorna Luft as they open up North Shore Music Theater's Summer Season.  


Gary and I spoke last week and he began the interview by telling me that Hello, Dolly! is the one show he has seen more than any other. He has also appeared with TWO of the most iconic Dollys when he appeared opposite Carol Channing AND Mary Martin in Legends!

About nine months ago, Gary was having lunch with the producer of MJT. He was told that the theater had just chosen its next season. When he was told that the season would be closing with Hello, Dolly!, Gary told him that he would do Horace Vandergelder for them. Gary suggested doing it with a friend of his from Southern California (Since she didn't do it, Gary didn't reveal her name). Then Marcia called Gary and asked, "Why not Vicki Lewis?" Gary and Vicki had done an off-Broadway show together about thirty years ago. They have remained in touch and Gary told Marcia that he thought it was the most interesting idea he had ever heard. She was so far and away different from anyone he had ever seen play the role. That's how it all came about. Gary just volunteered to do it. When he moved to Florida, he had no intention of working in the theater scene there. However, Dolly! seemed like it would be so much fun.

Ruth Gordon as Dolly Gallagher Levi in The Matchmaker
Looking at photos of this production, Gary says it does not look like any production he had ever seen of Dolly! In a recent interview that he and Vicki were giving with a reporter down in Florida, the reporter asked how it felt to be doing a role that was so closely associated with Carol Channing. Gary feels, as I do, that that is such a rude question since thousands have played the part. Some of them very successfully! Gary jumped in and said, "Vicki's approach is not unlike the original Dolly." Of course, this guy looked at Gary as if he had lost his mind. Then Gary said, Ruth Gordon."  The reporter was really taken aback. Gary advises going back and listening to the original cast album, "Carol even seems to slip in a little Ruth Gordon from time to time.The elongated way that Gordon talked, Carol does the same.Of course, Carol made it her own". Vicki played Dolly a little more "coquettishly". She wasn't blatantly up front about putting her hand into everything. "She somehow snuck her hand into everything."

Photo credit: Alicia Donelan
Hello, Dolly! is the fifth show that Beach has done with Dodge. Marcia's reputation, particularly after Ragtime, is to take these old "war horses" and spiff them up, make them new, change things. The second show she and Gary did together was at Arena Stage in Washington in 1992 of Of Thee, I Sing. You don't get much older than that! Dodge choreographed that. And with her take on everything, it felt brand new. It ran for three months and never played to an empty seat. It was magnificent. She did the same with Dolly. She didn't begin the show with the horse cart and three ladies.Call On Dolly! leading into the newspaper reveal of "Dolly Levi!" The audience discovered Dolly (Vicki) in the middle of the crowd. They pretty much did the same thing with Tovah Feldshuh at the Paper Mill Playhouse.Tovah, by the way, was a protege of Ruth Gordon.

Sandi Patty as Dolly
Gary will be playing Horace again this summer at the North Shore Theater in Beverly, Massachusetts with Lorna Luft, who I think will be incredible, as Dolly Levi! Months ago, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra contacted Gary's agent to tell him that they were doing a concert version of Dolly with Sandi Patty. Gary was not that familiar with Sandi but thought that it would be fun and a great way to introduce him to the part. It made him so happy that he got a chance to do this KNOWING that he was going to be doing it later in Florida at the Maltz Jupiter. During the rehearsals for this, he was having so much fun that when he heard that North Shore was doing it, he had his agent call to see if Horace had been cast. Nooooo....Gary said he would love to do it and they called back and said they would love to have him do it!
Charles Repole will be directing.  Repole made his Broadway debut in Very Good Eddie in 1975, earning a Tony Award nomination and a Theatre World Award for his performance. Additional Broadway credits include the 1979 revival of Whoopee!, which garnered him a Drama Desk Award nomination, Doubles (1985), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1995), which he directed. Gary is very excited to be co-starring with Lorna Luft. He has never worked with her before. He went on YouTube to check her out! I saw her at Paper Mill Playhouse in December in White Christmas. She was fantastic! She is at the top of her game.

Sandi Patty starring in "Hello, Dolly!" presented by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at the Hilbert Circle Theater.. Credit: Thomas J. Russo
The Sandi Patty Dolly concert was done with a 75 piece orchestra.  Of course, the sound was magnificent. Sandi Patty's voice and talent are incredible. They brought in for Sandi, Just Leave Everything to Me (instead of I Put My Hand In) and Love is Only Love from the movie. Sandi sang both songs beautifully but Gary has always felt like Just Leave Everything To Me is more like a club act type of song. The feel of the song, to Gary, was more 1968 than 1900.

Gary feels his best moment in the show takes place at the end. "It's such a crumble that this guy does." He goes upstairs, distributes the cash that everyone wants, comes down stairs, gets on one knee and basically says, "I've been wrong for too the last two hours!." It's very Thorton Wilder. Very human. Gary finds it tough to do, especially in rehearsal because he finds it so sweet, so wonderful, so human. "I just blubber." Gary found himself channeling his father. "He had a certain swagger about him. He was very genuine". That's what Gary wanted Horace to convey in that last scene. Jerry Herman told Gary that he loved him as Horace.
Gary Beach, Jerry Herman, Vicki Lewis, Artistic director Andrew Kato, Fran Weissler
Gary loves Jerry. I was lucky enough to see Gary in the 2004 revival of La Cage Aux Folles.

Gary played Zaza. Gary had so much fun. When they brought Robert Goulet in, the show brighted up for Gary so much. He says Goulet was a wonderful person to share the stage with. He just adored him.

Gary remembers how much he loved the original cast album of Dolly. He was a teenager when that came out. He didn't see the out of town tryout of Dolly although he was in DC at the time it was playing. Years later, he was in Dallas, Texas, doing tryouts for Legends! Carol and Charles Lowe, who was so kind to him, invited him to dinner with a guy Gary got to know from DC, Richard Coe, the drama critic for The Washington Post. He was there to see Legends! and possibly offer some advice. The conversation over dinner turned to Dolly! Carol said it was because of Richard Coe that Dolly became such a big hit, that he gave them all the right advice. Gary has always thought that was such a sweet thing from an actor to a critic. Gary said it was fun to be at that dinner that night and hear them all reminisce about a show he loves so much.   
with Shayla Benoit as Ernestina Photo: Alicia Donelan

I asked Gary about the first performance down in Florida. He said it was great fun. The cast and crew were prepared. The audience did not know what to expect, however. They were there to see Hello, Dolly!  What they were seeing did not look anything at all like what they were expecting. Being Florida, they have a "mature" audience. They had a unit set, designed by Paul DePoo, that really did the trick. Audiences loved it! One moment the set was the Hay and Feed store. The next moment, it was the locale for the 14th Street Parade. It was all done with lighting, designed by Paul Miller.

Over the years, Gary saw Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Dorothy Lamour, Yvonne DeCarlo, Phyllis Diller, AND he was at Ethel Merman's opening night. Carol Channing was brilliant. She was the mold. The show was built on her and the costumes never looked better than on her. She was just fantastic. After her, he felt that Dorothy Lamour "leaned on Carol a bit and did a bit of an imitation." Pearl Bailey made it her own. He didn;t realize how "sweet" that show was until he saw Pearl Bailey in it. "She was funny. Of course, she was funny...she was Pearl Bailey."  She took it to places Gary had never seen it go. She was so real. She played opposite Cab Callaway. "He was just as sweet as he could be in that show". It made for an absolute incredible evening. He remembers the audiences just standing there reaching up at her.

The biggest change that Gary has seen since he made his Broadway debut is that shows are not as personality driven anymore. Gary misses that. The "revival craze that is in it's second decade has become stupefyingly boring! "Oh, boy! Let's do Gypsy again!" Gary's advice is to write another "Gypsy". It's hit a bad spot. He's coming to New York for a few weeks to rehearse for North Shore. When he thinks about what he wants to see, his response is "nothing!". He may be seeing The Best Man on my recommendation. The last time he was in New York, he saw Book of Mormon and War Horse...loved both!

I asked Gary if he ever say a production of Dolly that missed the mark. He said, No. He has always loved it and he can always appreciate the differences between each production. When he was in college, he saw the bus and truck company with Yvonne deCarlo. He remembers nothing about it except that she was absolutely beautiful. When she got ready to walk around the passarella for the big "wind up"she hiked up her dress to reveal these magnificent legs and high kicked her way around the runway.

Gary says, contrary to what he feels about revivals, that it is time for a revival and a resurgence and interest in Dolly! I hope that my book does this. He would like to see a "re-thinking" with an homage to the original. He says as he is out and about since doing Dolly in Florida that people have come up to him saying, "I thought I knew Hello, Dolly!" This production spoke differently to people. Marcia did not set out to re-invent the wheel. She did, however, set out to tell the story a little bit more quietly. Thorton Wilder and Jerry Herman are so brilliant that it can be done.
Interesting story. Gary did The Producers at the St. James Theater where Hello, Dolly! played. He picked his dressing room when they moved in on the second floor. It was fabulous. He loved it, with windows looking outside on 44th Street. All the things that you very rarely see in old theaters.  There was a wall that he wanted taken down. The wall came down after 45 years! To find out WHY the wall was up in the first place, read Sondra Lee's (original Minnie Fay) memoir, "I've Slept With Everybody"

Thank you, Gary, for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world and I cannot wait to celebrate you and Lorna Luft in person June at The North Shore Music Theatre!

Your devoted fan,

Thank you, Linnea Brown and staff of Maltz Jupiter Theatre for some of the photos in today's blog.

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Tomorrow's blog will be..My exclusive interview with  Gordon Connell, The Judge in the original production of Hello, Dolly! and David (Horace Vandergelder) Burns standby!





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TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY
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