Saturday, August 4, 2012

David Hartman: Rudolph in Hello, Dolly! Original Company

Before getting to Dolly, I want to set the record straight. David Hartman is not the son of famed dance couple Paul and Grace Hartman. They were a nightclub dance team for decades. Paul was charming and angular and dry and they had a funny wit to them as a dance team. One night after Dolly’s curtain came down, David got a call over the speaker that there was a gentleman who would like to say hello. David asked for him to be sent up. This gentleman came to the dressing room and told David that he was Paul Hartman and that watching him onstage during The Waiter’s Gallop and the Dolly number reminded him kind of of what he used to do on stage, then he asked David what his name was. They had a good laugh. 

They remained in touch and David saw him a few times in Los Angeles. They are not related!

David was twenty seven when his agent sent him up for a singing audition for Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman in September of 1963.
David had read The Matchmaker so he pretty much knew the storyline. He sang and Gower asked him if he could do a German accent. Davis said, “Yes, I can” which was a complete lie. He figured that between then and another audition, he could learn a German accent which he did.
At his call back, several days later, he read. Gower asked if they could get together to go over some dance moves. David informed Gower that he was not a dancer. David said he could move. Gower invited him to come back for a dance audition. He went to Showcase Studios on Eighth Avenue and Fifty-sixth on the east corner.
It was just music director Peter Howard and Gower. Gower taught David thirty-six counts of something. They went through it a couple of times and Gower asked him to do it on his own, which he did. Gower then walked over to him very quietly and very dryly, which was the way he spoke, and he looked David in the eye and very quietly asked, “Would you like to play Rudolph, the headwaiter, in our production of Dolly?”

Three auditions and he was in.
(Photo: Henri Dauman) David Burns © Sony Music Entertainment
Courtesy of Sony Music Archives
Rehearsals started at the Mark Hellinger Theater in New York. 

As in preparing for any show, especially a show as big as Dolly, there’s a lot of activity.
The chorus was in the basement learning what they had to learn. The leads were out learning their songs in the lobby. On stage, the first sixteen days of rehearsal, eight hours a day was spent on The Waiter’s Gallop and the title number.  This was for a twenty two minute section of the show!  When they got to Detroit where the show would receive the name Hello, Dolly!, most of the show had not even been blocked. From there on, it was a work in progress. When they got to Detroit, Gower divided the show into eight pieces and announced that they were going to do one piece at a time. 
Peter Howard

It was very organized with Peter Howard and Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart writing. 
Charles Strouse was brought in with Lee Adams and Bob Merrill to augment the show.  
He was also the fourth stage manager because he only appeared in the second act. He ended up in the closing of the first act after the re-write.
When Parade went into the show in DC, that got David into the first act. He was in charge of props. He was in charge of Carol. He made sure that she had everything she needed. 
He ran half of the first act. It was a wonderful experience both on and off-stage. He was involved for two years from the time he started rehearsals. 
He did about 800 performances on Broadway. There were also eight weeks on the road starting at The Fisher Theater in Detroit, then on to four weeks at The National Theater in Washington DC before settling into his home for the next seven years at the St. James Theater. 
Ginger Rogers rehearsing with Gower
Their team of stage managers discussed Dolly with the second cast that included Ginger Rogers and the international tour starring Mary Martin. Martin was already an acquaintance. He and she had been friends for quite some time. The stage managers would walk the various replacements through their new roles. One interesting sideline. David never learned to type. 
When they were in DC, Lucia Victor, production stage manager, said to David, “As soon as we get to New York, you have to take the script in to Samuel French’s for them to have a copy of the libretto with basic stage directions and so forth. “ She told David that that was one of his jobs between then and them arriving in New York. Not being a typist, David thought, “Oh my God! This is hunt and peck city!” He did do it and put in the appropriate stage directions. He had to keep track of all the changes in the script…and there were MANY!
David was not on stage for the ill-fated Come and Be My Butterfly.  David gave the eulogy at Gower’s funeral and said, “ And, Gower, I know one day you’re going to fix Butterfly.” He tried for a year.  He kept working at it after the show opened on Broadway, which is unheard of. 
Nicole Barth, David Burns, and Bonnie Mathis  Photo: Henri Dauman) © Sony Music Entertainment
Courtesy of Sony Music Archives
He was determined to make that number work. Eventually, it was replaced with the Polka contest…when Ginger Rogers came into the show.   
Gower was a master showman. It wasn’t just the music. It wasn’t just the dialogue. It wasn’t just the performing. This is reflected in how he directed. He would stand in the back of the theater. When he looked at the stage, he saw the entire stage. He was a master at having one thing go on, say down left in one, and in sixteen counts, because he was always thinking choreographically, something would be happening upstage right, then something center stage. He was able to bounce your attention so you never got bored. Go back to Bye Bye Birdie and think about The Telephone Hour. That number is typical Gower. Think about that set, and the girls, all in their cubicles. Your eye and your ear kept jumping from one place to another. 
All of a sudden it was over and you were already transitioned into the next scene without realizing, almost, that there had been a scene change. He was constantly thinking about diverting your attention from one point to another so that the audience never got totally comfortable, for the most part, with what was happening at any given moment. It was a combination of words and movement. Anyone who sees a great production of Dolly that follows these guidelines, no matter what age, is going to be fascinated by it. Gower at rehearsal once said, "That June Taylor brochure really works!"
One night in Washington, Gower was sitting in the house seats in the theater. Edward Albee came to see the show and sat behind Gower. Gower told everyone the next day at rehearsals that Albee sat there on his hands and never smiled once through the entire show the night before.  Gower said, “Well, he’s in theater and we’re in show business.” 
That was Gower. He was an entertainer. Look at some of the major stars of today. The shows they are putting on, the Madonna’s and the Lady Gagas, are extravagant shows. They hold your attention. They are bombastic and musical and so on. 
That’s essentially what Gower did but in a much more formal setting. It was the same idea. If young people see Dolly, they will see that the music is fun and it’s a charming show.
It’s beautiful in some places. Parade and Sunday Clothes are absolutely overwhelmingly beautiful musical choral numbers. 
You get a smattering of all different types of music in what Jerry wrote.
People think it has changed with STARS leading shows today.
It was like that then, too, with stars like Ginger Rogers and Betty Grable and Ethel Merman and Mary Martin. They were great stars. The desire is those cash registers ringing at the box office.
David would go on to do only one more Broadway musical, the ill-fated The Yearling
What a gift Dolly was! It was David’s first Broadway show. Before that, he had only done summer stock and off-Broadway, most notably Best Foot Forward starring a young Liza Minnelli and with a young Christopher Wallken in the chorus.  For your first Broadway show to be one of the greatest musicals of all time is a privilege.
The material dictates what it is. The material also dictates the movement which is Gower. He didn’t want anything to stop or slow down.
They spent weeks rehearsing the feed store scene. If a line didn’t work, he would have Michael Stewart rewrite it or delete it. He wouldn’t continue to suffer, usually, if something wasn’t working. He simply said, “Let’s redo it.” Once he had an idea in the Hay and Feed store. This involved the trap door. 
Gower had this idea that he wanted a fire coming out of the trap door! That turned into exploding cans coming out all over the stage. The prop master, Harold Caulfield, was told by Gower what he wanted. He went to work on it and five days later, showed Gower what he had done. 
He walked on stage of the Fisher Theater in Detroit to show Gower. As stage manager, David had to be underneath the stage of the feed store to execute this with electrical contacts that were going to throw tin cans all over the stage. They tried it ONCE and the cans went everywhere.   Gower just said, “No, I don’t think that’s going to work but thanks a lot.” Harold, who had been working on this for five days, said to David, “Isn’t it great to be in the big time?”
Gower was open to suggestions from the cast. It was Sondra Lee, as Minnie Fay, who suggested to Gower Minnie’s dance around Dolly at the end of the Dancing number. 
That moment is still recreated in productions to this day. 

Left to right: Carol Channing, Paul Solen, David Burns, Alice Playten, Igors Gavon, Charles Nelson Reilly, Eileen Brennan, David Hartman, Sondra Lee, Gordon Connell, Jerry Dodge (Photo: Henri Dauman)

David suggested to Gower the idea of Rudolph conducting the waiters during the Waiter’s Gallop like he was conducting an orchestra. In rehearsal, they got to figure out which step he should be standing on. It may seem silly, but they figured out it was the sixth step. 

David learned the entire waiter’s number in dance counts. 
He figured out where to point. When John Mineo jumped,he knew where to point. David conducted that number!  He wasn’t just waving his hands about. He has noticed in subsequent productions Rudolph just waving his arms about. 
It doesn’t matter. It still works like gangbusters. You just bring energy and fun to the role. 
Once Carol caught her heel in the hem of her petticoats during the Dolly number. 
She was on the ramp and got caught. She didn’t dare take a step or move. David ran off stage and got a pair of scissors and ran out onto the ramp and cut the hem away like any good headwaiter would do.
Once the show opened in New York, it was pretty much routine. That being said, you still go out and do it full out as if you’ve never done it before. That was never difficult to do. That sequence of twenty two minutes is an astounding twenty two minutes on stage. It was great fun and great energy and when Carol entered for the Dolly number, it was magic.

There are too many wonderful memories to try and whittle down to one. 
It was just a marvelous experience.  
Funny Girl, which opened the same year on March 26th, 1964 had an Actors Fund Benefit. The following Sunday at the St. James, Hello, Dolly also did a benefit. It’s a show biz crowd. All the gypsies were there. There was enthusiastic applause after ever number especially after The Waiters Gallop and Hello, Dolly!  They were standing on their seats and screaming. It was a wonderful experience to have people who are on a stage every day appreciate what this cast was doing and to celebrate what Gower Champion, Jerry Herman, Peter Howard, and Michael Stewart had created. 

It was a real collaborative effort on behalf of the creators and of course Thornton Wilder, with The Matchmaker
It turned out pretty well. The one thing that David took forth for the rest of his career was a true sense of collaboration. No one works alone. Anyone who thinks that do believe their own press releases which is dangerous stuff. Everyone has to work together. Gower said in Washington that the dance numbers weren’t that great. The material itself is not that great. The direction is not that great. The responsibility rested on the shoulders of the cast. 
He encouraged the cast to do 108% every performance or everything would be dead. He was depending upon performance. It had to be full out non stop every performance.
On a side note, David had been a baseball player. For a brief moment, he thought about pursuing pro baseball, but decided against it. All the Broadway shows have their own softball teams and play as part of the Broadway softball league. David went to Mr. Merrick and asked if he would buy the caps, the t-shirts balls, and bats. Mr. Merrick did not want to do it. Typical of Mr. Merrick. He finally gave in, but said to David, “If any one of my dancers gets hurt and misses a performance, you’re fired, responsible!”  or words to that effect.  He made it very clear that if anyone got hurt, there would be hell to pay! David played first base. At the first game, he stretched for a ball on a throw and popped his hamstring. He heard it pop. What went through his head at that moment was, “Oh my God! I’m going to be fired.” For the next two or three performances, no one knew he was in huge pain. 
He couldn’t let on because he couldn’t miss a performance. That was the worst of his Dolly experience.   
Another wonderful night was their closing night in DC. Gower threw a party at one of the hotels near the theater in the ball room. About one o’clock in the morning, Gower got up to get everyone’s attention. He said he had a surprise for everyone. 
He played Louis Armstrong’s new recording of Hello, Dolly. That song of course helped build the show’s publicity.
Jerry Herman is just the master according to David. What can you say with all of the musicals that he wrote and he wrote it all with such warmth and such genuine feeling and respect for people and that comes through his music with such sensitivity with everything he writes. He is just wonderful.  
David Burns was so wonderful and kept everyone on their toes on stage. He had a great sense of humor. His willingness to be the foil to Carol helped make her all the better. David Burns was responsible in a lot of ways for Carol being as terrific as she was in the role because of his responses to her. That is what a professional he was. He was the real deal. He knew how to do a take and when to do it, how strong it should be and why. 

David Burns was just awesome. In the docket scene, towards the end of the show, Eileen Brennan and Charles Nelson Reilly, Jerry Dodge, Sondra Lee, Gordon Connell, and David Hartman, and Mary Jo Catlett were all in the docket.  David Burns was sort of in the back in the middle but they were all jammed in there together. Charles Nelson Reilly and Eileen Brennan are singing It Only Takes a Moment.   
It’s a very nice warm loving moment. A lot of the time while that was going on, Burns was just making “trouble” for everybody in the docket. He was moaning and touching Mary Jo Catlett and saying, “Oh, My God, woman, you are amazing. Don’t touch me now, don’t touch me.” It was quiet enough so that those in the docket could hear it. It was so hard to keep a straight face with Davey having a lot of fun on stage.  
The biggest change that David has seen in the business since Dolly is the insurgence of microphones and over amplification. There were a few microphones in Dolly. Carol and Davie Burns were wearing mics, but as David recalls no one else was, perhaps the other principals. They had to SING. They had to bounce it off the back wall. David misses that. He misses having everything so over hyped sound wise and blowing you out of the theater. Everything is over micked today, even in the smallest theaters. That is the nature of the beast, especially nowadays when everything is so rock-y with rock type musicals. David considers himself old school. He’d like to see a turn back, but doesn’t think it’s going to happen.  
David grew up in the New York burbs and his parents loved Broadway musicals. He went to a lot of original shows when he was a kid, The Sound of Music, Carousel, Oklahoma!, The King and I, all the originals, the crème of the crop of Broadway musicals. To have been in Hello, Dolly! as your first musical and to have it be the blockbuster that it was, to have gone for it and make it happen, is a real privilege. 
The following was read by David at Gower Champion Memorial Service
Winter Garden Theater August 28, 1980
Remarks:  David Hartman

        I’m David Hartman. I’m here because Gower Champion gave me my first job on Broadway as Rudolph, the German headwaiter, in the original cast of Hello, Dolly!

        Some memories for those of you here among the “Hello, Dolly,” alumni: Gower gave many of us “that first chance.” He had no assurance that we’d come through…took the chance anyway. He touched all of us, whether we were on stage or in the audience. And a few of us lucky ones were fortunate enough to have shared his “exploring,” his “trial and error” process of choreographing…like the excitement of finding the exact moment to flip our hands out in a classic “Gower” hand-flip move. 

He always had that little glint in his eye as he worked… “do me something, anything…yeah yeah yeah, keep THAT.” 
The results were all HIS, really, but he made you feel like YOU had actually created something.
        Fall 1963. The Mark Hellinger Theater. 51st Street just off Broadway, was “dark.” “My Fair Lady” had made that theater hallowed ground. That’s where we rehearsed “Hello, Dolly…” on the stage, in the lobby, the lower lobby and the basement under the stage.
        For the first two weeks…fourteen days…from 10 AM until 6…Gower created and rehearsed only two numbers. Half of our total rehearsal time…only two numbers. Great scheduling. Fourteen days…twenty men, and one woman, two numbers. 

Then, on October 20, 1963, Sunday afternoon…in the dreary, dark chill…in khakis and tights and leg warmers and tennis shoes... with folding chairs and adhesive tape and Peter Howard playing that crumby upright piano, Gower said, “Let’s try it. Both numbers. “Waiters” and “Dolly.” As Walter Kerr wrote later in the New York Herald Tribune, “Mr. Champion’s dancers began exploding through the floor, out of their minds once, again. And, when peace was restored, the curtains parted and down the long stairway, red on red, came Carol Channing.” When Peter played the final chord, with singer’s and dancer’s voices bouncing off the walls of the Mark Hellinger, we hit “that pose…” with arms outstretched all facing Carol. In the absolute hush and stillness on that dank Sunday afternoon, Gower walked ever so slowly out of the dark recesses of the back orchestra seats to the front of the ramp built around the pit for these two numbers. 
He hesitated for what seemed an eternity, then, simply and quietly, made one of the “Broadway Musical” understatements of all time. “I think we’ve got something.”
        He did have “something,” and, he gave it to all of us. He showed us how to love it. He gave each of us on stage a few moments of a lifetime…the moments that kids (and older folks, too) dream about… moments so electric, you could hardly stand it. He said, more than once, “the dance steps aren’t that great. Choreography either. Go out and give it 108% or we’re all ‘FINISHED!’” He made you feel downright creative when deep down you knew you were really just up there jumping around having the most fun of your life.  And the audience…they’d smile…then laugh…then SCREAM because they couldn’t keep it in. They’d leave the St. James, head down 44th Street, inching along, embarrassedly wanting to try, well, maybe, just one of those little “Gower” steps…humming all the way…”Hellohhhh, Dolly.” 
They’d been “had…” by the Gower magic.
        For all of us, on stage and out front, thanks Gower, for the joy you’ve given us. Marge mentioned that you’re a perfectionist. As all you Dolly alumni remember…”Gower, we know that one of these days you’re finally FIX BUTTERFLIES!”

Thank you David Hartman for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!
I want this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!

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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
My next blog will be... My Exclusive Interview with Spider Duncan Christopher , Carol Channing's First National Company!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!


Richard Skipper,                            

This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!

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