Monday, August 13, 2012

Richard Leppig (Cornelius Hackl, Dorothy Lamour Bus and Truck Company)


Richard Leppig
Prior to Dolly, Richard Leppig was scratching for anything he could get in this business. He was working in the Greenwich Village for Jerome Irving Rodale (surname accented on second syllable) (August 16, 1898 – June 8, 1971), was a playwright, editor, author, and founder of Rodale, Inc. He had a theater in which he produced psycho dramas. He did shows on health foods and the effect they would have on you. 
Richard didn’t know anything about Hello, Dolly! except that it was a big musical and beyond his horizon. In order for him to follow in Charles Nelson Reilly’s footsteps, he would have to take chances and give it a shot.   
Dolly began for Richard when he saw a listing in Back Stage, the theatrical trade paper announcing auditions for the Martha Raye tour of Hello, Dolly to Vietnam in 1967. They were casting for the role of Cornelius Hackl. 
Martha Raye in Vietnam

The auditions were being held six to twelve months prior to the tour beginning. 
He did well in the audition and it got down to between Richard and another fellow. When casting Cornelius, depending upon other casting choices, tends to go one of two ways. 
One is sort of the Charles Nelson Reilly portrayal. 
Charles Nelson Reilly

The other way is more of a rustic country type way, like Will Mackenzie, who replaced Charles Nelson Reilly. At the time of these auditions, Will was appearing as Cornelius on Broadway with Betty Grable. Richard considered himself more of the Charles Nelson Reilly type. Anyway, the casting went in the other direction, and that was the end of that.

About a year later, there was another casting notice for Dolly. This time it was for the Dorothy Lamour national tour. Once again, Richard went in. They remembered him and selected him. 
Lucia Victor told him to go upstairs and get a contract. It was “rainbow time!”

Richard already knew it was a big glorious show. He felt that he was stepping out of his league with this. It represented everything he thought Broadway was as far as a big splashy musical show. Making it to this level was a dream come true.

His feelings about Dolly today are probably stronger than they were forty-five years ago. 
He appeared with an actress who was not a name and she blew his socks off. Her name was Alison England. Richard was in his seventies and played the role of the judge. Alison was brought up in a Hollywood show business family. She knew how to take stage. 
She has a great voice and is also a great vocal teacher.
Richard does believe there is a future for Dolly, but sometimes he gets a little depressed. It is a different type of music now. The music of Jerry Herman and others of his ilk are mostly thought of now in a historical context. When you allow yourself to witness this show, it will pick you up and pull you along. It will convert people if they give it a chance.
When the Dorothy Lamour company was touring, they were competing with the film company in Garrison, New York. They were losing a lot of their dancers because they were being hired for the tour. 
Their road pay could not compete with a few days of shooting the film for several weeks. Many dancers thought that that would be a better gig. Some of them had been attached with Dolly for a long time.
Richard believes that Dolly was absolutely one of the top five shows he was part of. Not only does it have great music, every song kind of picks you up, it also has great comedy. 
It has a core to it based on The Matchmaker, and going all the way back to the original German source material. People identify with it. It builds up your spirit, it has a great message for people. It’s honest. Ray thinks it’s wonderful.
Changing Gower’s choreography is an iffy proposition. The problem with choreography is that it’s like writing on water. The next generation may recreate it, but it doesn’t have the crispness of just being created. 
It has that core of vitality that people get to.
Richard considers Charles Nelson Reilly to be one of the
Alison England
great comic actors of all time. Richard brought his own personal timing to the production. There are moments in the show where you can take advantage of your timing. Richard wore the same shoes for the entire run. They began to wear out towards the end. 
On the bottom, the leather had come apart. There was one point in one of the fast moving scenes where Richard’s shoe just slid on the stage. His feet came out from underneath him and he did a complete fall on his back. He could hear his Barnaby Tucker, Jess Richards, asking him if he was alright. He got up. It was funny. Later, he thought he should have said, “I think I broke my purse.”
Richard doesn’t even have a program of his days in Dolly because “chintzy Jack Schlissel” who managed the road company from Merrick’s office forced those in the company to buy a program. They were charging eight bucks for this.
Richard was part of the Dorothy Lamour company from the beginning in October 1967 through July 1968. They ended with a six week run at the Tinton Hill music tent in Lambertville, New Jersey. Alas, this company never made it to Broadway.  "This is the closest I've ever come to an Academy Award. -Dorothy Lamour used to say during her curtain speech for Dolly!

The blonde Dorothy Lamour
Richard continued to tweak his performance on occasion but he says you have to be careful to do exactly what you were directed to do. Lucia Victor did run a tight ship. He remembers the guy playing Rudolph, Charles Scott, as they were flying out for their opening in Bloomfield, Indiana saying to him, “Richard, as far as confidence goes you can do whatever you want as Cornelius. 
You can pretty much get away with anything.” Richard was worried about his dancing. He wasn’t a dancer. He thinks things have gotten worse over the past forty-five years!
Richard’s favorite memory of the show is when Dorothy as Dolly is teaching him to dance.
Richard’s career came to a standstill after Dolly. After closing in Lambertville, Richard came back to New York and was auditioning. 
Nothing was happening until he got a commercial within a couple of months of completing Dolly. 
It was a TWA commercial that ran that filmed for three days. Richard was a principal in the commercial. He didn’t realize it at the time but the commercial was a series of commercials. The director had written up story lines for the characters.
 Richard was one of the story lines, but the thing is no one ever told him that and during the course of after
Dorothy Lamour Company
the first commercial was airing all over the television, including The Tonight Show, Richard had a falling out with his roommates. Around that same time, Richard’s brother came back from Vietnam and suggested that both he and Richard go back to college together. Richard moved back home with his parents and he and his brother were going to go back to college together.
 In the interim, the production house for the commercial called Richard’s old apartment with the need for him to come in for the next rehearsal.
 The guy who was Richard’s roommate never passed the information on to him. He never got the call and he was effectively out of show business at that point. Twenty years later, almost to the day, Richard went out to Los Angeles to see what he can do on the West Coast.
 He admits that he is a very shy person and he didn’t have what it takes to go knocking on agent’s doors. However, he ran across the agent who had worked with the producers on the commercial for that production house. 
He had answered an ad for representation and they talked about what had transpired. It was just an amazing ironic meeting.
The one thing that Richard learned from his experience with Dolly is confidence on stage. Unfortunately, that credit did not advance his career. When he got the part, he was part of a circle of young struggling actors that included Morgan Freeman.   
He would go on to play Rudolph in Pearl Bailey’s original company! He's done rather well for himself.
Also, part of that group was Ellen Shade, a young aspiring opera singer at the time. She was also having an affair with Richard’s roommate at the time. 
She was so excited about Richard being cast in Dolly that she invited him to dinner to meet her parents. She also went over Richard’s lines with him one by one.   
Ellen Shade
Shade had an international career, but did not make many recordings. She was a diva at the Santa Fe Opera House for a while. 
When Richard was living in Los Angeles, she had become famous. He went to see a production of  Die Fledermaus with Ellen as the star. They went backstage and she didn’t remember him! It ended up being sour grapes all around.
Dolly was the keystone of Richard’s career. 
It gave him no fear as far as understanding what he had to do on stage and the ability to take center stage when he knew that was what he was there for.  Sometimes when he sees that point, he tries to point that out without it looking like he’s pushing anything. That’s what it’s all about. When you get out there, you give the audience what they came for.
There was a point before Richard made his first entrance from underneath the trap door in Horace’s Hay and Feed Store. During the last six weeks, in Lambertville, Richard used to think that he just couldn’t do this anymore. 
Once he got out there on stage, everything was alright. One night he was singing the opening part of Put On Your Sunday Clothes, and a line of the song did not come to him. Because he wasn’t singing, everyone was looking at him to see what was happening.
When Richard was in rehearsal, Jack Schlissel invited the company to see the Betty Grable company on Broadway. He thought she was ok. He thought Dorothy Lamour was ok. He thought she came across on stage more negative than she needed to be. Carol Channing lifted the show up even at the end, when she is berating Vandergelder. With Dorothy, it was fatalistic. It didn’t have the kind of strength and power and optimism that it should have, so it was kind of flat. People went to see a star and they got it. 

Alison England made it work. Even at the end, it was all fantastic. Audiences went nuts for her at the curtain calls. Audiences weren’t there to see a star. They didn’t know her.
Richard thinks Jerry Herman is great and terrific. Richard remembers seeing Mame with Angela Lansbury. As far as Broadway music that is just fantastic, no one can touch him. He actually sent Angela a fan letter at the time and she wrote back.
Lucia Victor directed Richard’s tour. Don Lawrence was the dance assistant. They only had nine days of rehearsal before heading to Bloomington, Indiana. Richard had the freedom to bring as much as he could to the table and Lucia was happy with what he was doing. 
He wishes that he had had more coaching as far as his solos were concerned. Everything worked out and he never got any negative feedback. There was some kind of business in the flower shop that Lucia was looking for that Richard couldn’t get a handle on. It didn’t come to him after one or two tries. Due to time constraints, she cancelled the business and moved on. He thought with more time, he would have been able to grasp it. Nine days was a lot of pressure. Lucia knew what she wanted and she got it. Richard never had any interaction out of the show itself on a one to one basis.
Why does Richard think the title song always stops the show? “Because all the guns point towards it.” Everything happens to focus on that stairway. Once the Lamour company was performing at an army base in Missouri. It was an afternoon performance. The only thing they cared about as far as the set piece was concerned to make the show work was putting up the staircase. It led up to a blank wall. There was no entry point at the top of the stairs except going up the stairs. 
That was the way it had to be because when that curtain opens, Dolly comes down the stairs. That IS Hello, Dolly, probably one of the most iconic moments in musical theater history.
Their Horace Vandergelder was Eric Brotherson. He had also appeared with Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam and with Noel Harrison in Half-A-Sixpence. He was a tall and elegant balding gray haired very suave dependable experienced and wonderful. He didn’t have the necessary gruffness that David Burns had. Richard had only seen David Burns in a couple of television appearances and he always came across as gruff whether he was Vandergelder or not.    
Once, when they were in Mississippi, they were held for ransom for eight hours. On the bus and truck tour, there were three busses, two for the cast and one for the orchestra, and a van for the set pieces. They were traveling through Mississippi and they were stopped by the state troopers. They required a permit from the company. There was no permit and Richard doesn’t even know if it was legally necessary to have one. They wouldn’t let anyone move from the time they were stopped for about six to eight hours. Calls were going back and forth to New York to either Schlissel or whoever was in the office. Eventually they were bailed out. Richard doesn’t understand what the satisfaction of that encounter was. Andrea Bell, who was Minnie Fay in that production, said that homophobia was rampant in the South and there were usual harassments from state troopers because of some of the cast members.  
Nowadays, it seems as if the shows that get produced on Broadway are those shows that can convince others to back them. 

Whether the backers have a background in theater or not, “producers” are reaching out to these people. We also now don’t have a uniformed audience to see the shows that ARE getting produced. People are going to cable channels or stand-up comedy clubs  or various other sources of entertainment. It is so diffused that there really isn’t a “Broadway” audience anymore.   
As of this writing, Richard is in rehearsal for The Laramie Project
As most of my readers know, that is a very heavy show. Richard, who now resides in Salem Oregon where this will be presented, can’t really think of anyone in his own circle of friends that he would expect to come out and see that kind of a project except for the people who are in the cast. People don’t go to the theater now to be uplifted. If it’s a bad time for them or if there’s a lull in their lives or if it is dramatically relevant, but not much else, then they don’t want to go and spend the time with it.  
Rent in Salem Oregon was a hard pull to get people in.
Their closing night once again was in Lambertville, New Jersey. Everyone was looking forward to that night. It had been a long tour. At the time, Richard, since his parents were living in New Jersey, he stayed with them and commuted back and forth. It was about a sixty to sixty-five commute each way. In Lambertville, it was in the round with no real set. The scene in which Cornelius and Barnaby are about to be discovered in the hat shop, he had to dive into a large coffin-like wicker basket. He says his knees are not that great now, but at that time, he was very agile. He would dive eight to ten feet away from it and hit it every time. There was one night where it rained a tremendous downpour.  That was beating so heavily that the cast were screaming their lines and still were not able to be heard.
At the time of this tour, Dorothy was going through a period of her life in which this tour was a huge strain on her. 
William Ross Howard III and Dorothy Lamour
She was traveling with her husband, William Ross Howard III, a successful frozen food businessman, was ill at the time.  He died in 1978. He died of emphysema. For them to drive the entire run, which they did in their Cadillac, she did not have the ability to enjoy the show as much as she probably would have liked.  That’s too bad because it was a wonderful experience in so many ways. Richard felt like she wasn’t there completely because of that.
Hello, Dolly! brings us to a New York that brings us a lot of joy and that joy is there for everybody to be a part of. You don’t see THAT New York any more. The history of New York and Yonkers and the Harmonia Gardens and places like that and the life that was lived at that time is an era that has passed. This show captures the essence of that and it is fun. People can be transported if they just let themselves be part of it.   

Thank you Richard Leppig 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!

Do you have any pics?

If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com.


NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!



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 Chip Fields Hurd (Minnie Fay, Pearl Bailey 1977 Tour and Revival)

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!


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


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

Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            

 
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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