Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lee Roy Reams’ Memories of Hello, Dolly!


Carol Channing, Jerry Herman, Lee Roy Reams
Lee Roy Reams’ journey to Hello, Dolly! began essentially when he appeared as Henry Spofford on Broadway in Lorelei. Channing and he had become good friends and she called him on the phone one day and said, “Lee Roy? It’s Carol. Carol Channing? I’m doing a revival of Hello, Dolly and I want you to play Cornelius Hackl. Jerry Herman and Lucia Victor, the director don’t know you, darling.
So, you have to audition, but don’t worry, you got the part.” Lee Roy went in and auditioned and he did get the part and that was his introduction to Dolly AND Jerry Herman and Lucia Victor, whom he adored. This was 1978. Lucia was Gower Champion’s production stage manager on the original production, eventually taking over and directing. 

The 1978 revival had the choreographer, Jack Craig, who was the keeper of the Champion legacy. He was also a dear friend of Lucia’s. 
As a matter of fact, Lucia, Jack, and his partner, who was also the stage manager, all lived together!  They had the original people doing the show for the most part and they loved it.
Lee Roy in 42nd Street
It was just brilliant. Gower’s work in Dolly, next to 42nd Street, is among the best works ever done on Broadway. They toured for one year before settling into the Lunt-Fontaine Theater on Broadway.

This tour began with Broadway planned as the “final” destination. It was advertised as a pre-Broadway tour. This production also had Eddie Bracken as Horace Vandergelder. He was nominated for a Tony Award.
Lee Roy says he was just wonderful. Vandergelder is actually supposed to be Dutch. He is usually played by Jewish actors. For some strange reason, they have the cadence to make the comedy work. Bracken really was a perfect Horace Vandergelder.

A lovely man and quite a gentleman.  Everyone was in love with this production.   
Alix Korey, listed as Alexandra in the program was Minnie Fay. She was fresh out of the acclaimed Broadway revival of Fiorello! Robert Lydiard was Barnaby. Robert was no stranger to Dolly, having portrayed Barnaby from Maine to Texas opposite such ladies as Marion Marlowe, Betty O’Neill and Vivian Blaine. They were doing everything as it was originally done. 
That is the show that Lee Roy was taught. Lucia Victor, Lee Roy told me, did everything that Gower wanted. That is the way the show was constructed.  Jerry Herman was also hands on, to a degree.
He wasn’t around a lot, but he was involved.
When Lee Roy auditioned, Jerry Herman said, “For the first time, I’m going to have a singing Cornelius.” 
Jerry was thrilled about that. At the first run through, Jerry came in. When Lee Roy and Florence Lacy (Irene Molloy) sang It Only Takes a Moment, Jerry cried. He stopped the show and came up and hugged them both. Tears were streaming down his face and he said, “This is the way I heard this song in my head.” That moment began a lifelong relationship with Jerry. Lacey was in the show because of Rock Hudson. He had discovered her at a party at Rock Hudson’s. 
She was doing John Brown’s Body with Hudson and he fell in love with her, as all do.  She got up to sing at a party with Jerry playing for her. She didn’t even know who he was. He played Bill from Show Boat and he, too, fell in love with her. So when the pre-Broadway tour was being planned, Jerry wanted Flo and Carol wanted Lee Roy. Flo and Lee Roy did not know each other. They had never met. Lee Roy is thinking to himself, “Oh, great. Jerry Herman’s best friend. Mrs. Molloy…I wonder what she’s gonna look like.” You can imagine what he thought in his head! He’s thinking an overweight mezzo soprano who is Jerry’s best friend. The first day of rehearsal, in comes this gorgeous woman. He looked at those blue eyes and ivory skin and brown hair and he gasped. 
She was so gorgeous, and then she sang. The hair on his neck stood up. It was love at first sight. After they met, he told Flo, “You know, Flo? I don’t know how to tell you this, but when I heard that you were Jerry Herman’s best friend, you can’t even imagine what I really thought you were going to be like.” She laughed and said, “Imagine what I thought when they said you were Carol Channing’s best friend!”   
They had a big laugh about that and they seriously fell in love.
When the show got to Broadway, it didn’t run very long.
Previews: March 01, 1978 (5 previews). Opening: March 05, 1978. Closing: July 09, 1978. Performances: 147. Theatre: Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
I asked Lee Roy how he ended up becoming THE director for Dolly. He said everybody was dead! Lucia had died. Gower was gone. The first production that Lee Roy directed was in Paris starring Nicole Croisille. It was an English speaking production. Lee Roy had directed a lot in college. Lee Roy earned a Master of Arts degree and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. 

He had not directed anything as big as this production in Paris. This production was an all English cast except the lead, Nicole Croisille. She was a jazz singer but was also a dancer. She was very popular in Paris. She was wonderful. She was like a blonde version of Chita Rivera.
The Ephraim speeches were done brilliantly. She is a great musical comedy actress and understood American music. The French don’t really like musical theater. What they like is ballet, opera, revues. There is also the barrier of American humor. 
Nicole Croisill
There were French translations for this production. One of the producers, who assumed he spoke wonderful French, translated literally.
Many of the jokes translated literally did not work. Lee Roy does not speak or read French so he had no idea exactly what audiences were hearing. For those who understood English, it was a wonderful show. Flo Lacey was Mrs. Molloy. Michael DeVries was Cornelius and he was just wonderful. Cory English was Barnaby Tucker. This was in the early nineties. It was prior to Carol’s last Broadway revival. All of the names mentioned here in supporting transferred to that production. Lori Ann Mahl also played Minnie Fay.
She came in to audition for Ermengarde. Lee Roy thought she would make a better Minnie Fay. 
She turned out to be terrific. Ronnie Crowfoot did the choreography for that company. He was the dance captain. Jack Craig had passed on.
In addition to the Paris production, Lee Roy has directed Madeline Kahn in Theater OF the Stars in Atlanta. Madeline Kahn was absolutely brilliant.
He did productions with Jo Anne Worley and Leslie Uggams, both at Theater UNDER The Stars in Houston. 
He directed Michelle Lee at the Kansas City Starlight. Michelle made it her own and sang it beautifully and Randy Graff at the MUNY in probably what was Dolly’s largest staging, at least under Lee Roy’s direction.
He also directed Carol Channing’s last revival in 1994.   
Lee Roy is a very “hands on director.”  He was very good friends with Michael Stewart who wrote the book for Dolly suggested by The Matchmaker. Having done the revivals of Dolly and 42nd Street, for which Michael also wrote the book, they got to know each other. 

They came from the same kind of school of thought.
The people who never get the credit in the theater are the book writers. Michael Stewart was brilliant. He took that wonderful play by Thornton Wilder and those wonderful philosophies and he condensed them and put them into the sequences that were perfect, especially leading into the songs. The dialogue went right into the songs and the actors are able to sustain the same feelings from the dialogue and emotionality of the scene. 

Lee Roy is assuming that Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart worked very closely together on Dolly. Of course, Lee Roy was not there during the initial creative process. Jerry and Michael were also very good friends. Dolly is still a wonderful musical. It is a classic. The reason the music is loved so much is that the story and the philosophies still work. Thornton Wilder wrote about going back out into the human race, going out in life and trying to seek adventure, Dolly’s speech about money “the difference between a little money and a lot of money can ruin the world”…we are going through that right now. It is as timeless today as it was when it was written.  Because he was not with the original production, he does not know who invented what. Charles Lowe, Carol’s husband, wrote a lot
of her club material and was very influential with Carol and what she did. Perhaps he had a hand in some of her portrayal.
It is uncertain as to what Carol brought to the table in the original process. It is uncertain how much Gower contributed to the characterization of Carol as Dolly. Working with Gower, he was marvelous at staging a show. He was not necessarily an actor’s director.
He shouldn’t have to be. The actor should know what they are doing. In 42nd Street, the actors brought what they desired the characters to be to the table.
Gower did not sit down with them. 

At the first rehearsal, Gower told Lee Roy that Billy
Michael Stewart
Lawlor, Lee Roy’s character, was an over-the-hill juvenile.  “Every time a girl comes into the room, Billy wants to ‘make’ her.” Lee Roy questioned that approach.
He thought, “Dick Powell? Ruby Keeler?”  When they had their break, Mike Stewart grabbed Lee Roy and said, “Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! You ARE Billy Lawler. You’re Lee Roy Reams. You smile. You’re wonderful. You do it my way, he’ll never know the difference.” Lee Roy did and it led to a Tony nomination.
Gower left him alone as he did with most actors. He was focused mostly on Wanda Richert (Peggy Sawyer). He had a great company of pros that knew what they were doing. They really didn’t need to be “directed”. “Turn Carole Cook on and you’ve got Carole Cook!”
Gower Champion
Dolly has such a heart.
It has such positive things to say about life. It’s about how you can’t let life just pass you by. Rejoin the human race before the parade passes by. Start marching. Dolly compares his approach to directing Dolly like fitting someone for a costume. Sometimes a dress adjusted a certain way will look differently on a different body type.
You have to make adjustments and you cannot ignore the creative process. At the same time, too, when you know something very well, it is your job to direct the people in the style. There is a blueprint, the way it was done before, and it is flawless. 

Gower was a master at creating scene changes and how one scene would lead into another. It was like cinematic. One scene would dissolve into another. A number would start, there would be dancing, the set would change, and you would be in a whole new arena. It was brilliant. He was the best stager Broadway  has ever had.
Lee Roy thinks the best director/choreographer was probably Jerome Robbins. Gower’s direction was seamless in how he staged a show. It was like a movie, a genius.

 Nothing else has ever come close. Again, Lee Roy uses that blueprint, but things happen along the way. Some actors/actresses may not be able to do something exactly as you want, but as they do something another way, things began to happen. When Lee Roy directed Carol’s last revival, So Long Dearie, there were staging concerns. That number has always been a “weighted” number because it comes after the spectacular title song.  
Hello, Dolly! is the best number ever staged. 
Period.   It is hard after that to get the show back musically. Of course, you have the eating scene after that which is one of the best and funniest scenes ever written for a musical. Carol Channing was a genius in that scene. After It Only Takes a Moment, they wanted an eleven o’clock number for Carol because the show was constructed as a star vehicle. That happened out of town when Horace’s Penny in My Pocket was dropped and everything started changing direction and focus. They turned it into a star vehicle because Carol was overtaking the show, in a good way. They allowed that to happen. So Long, Dearie is a good song but it is anticlimactic. Lee Roy wanted to rethink the song with Carol. 
Carol in '64 So Long Dearie Dress
She carried around her large black notebook with every bit of Gower’s direction intact which was somewhat counterproductive with what Lee Roy wanted to do.
He wanted her to rediscover the number and see what they could both bring to it.
They discussed the number. He told her at that time, women couldn’t vote. Basically, Dolly is trying to make money any way she can so she can live because she doesn’t have a husband to support her.
There were not a lot of options for women at that time. She is a “Jane of all trades”, doing what she can to make money.
The one thing a woman had to her advantage was her sex. That was her secret weapon to manipulate men to make things happen. Lee Roy told her that in that number, that Vandergelder snaps, “I will never marry you Dolly Levi!”
 And she responds by telling him that she doesn’t want to marry him and that she is out a there.
“So, Long Dearie! I’m leaving you. You don’t know what you’re missing, but it’s good.
 Too bad, you can’t have it.” It’s a women’s lib number. She’s going to learn to dance, and drink, and smoke a cigarette. She’s going away from Yonkers.
She is out of there.  Lee Roy told Carol that it had to have that triumph to it. Carol was deadset against anything she had not already done.  They took a long afternoon…just the two of them. He said, “Let’s start at the beginning and let’s try and create a few things as we go along.”
 Lee Roy restaged the number. It was still within Gower’s framework. Lee Roy actually had Carol dance and move a little more.

Carol danced more in the ’95 revival than she did in the original in ’64 which was phenomenal at that time. She was seventy-four. He also got her back out on the ramp. That number was not performed on the ramp in ’64. She said, “You don’t go on the ramp after the Dolly number!” Lee Roy said, “It doesn’t say that in the script, Carol. This is her road to life.” 
It starts when she is out on the ramp vowing to rejoin the human race.
It gets her to the Harmonia Gardens. She owns the ramp. Now, she is taking that road and leaving Vandergelder to live her own life! He had to get her back on that ramp. Begrudgingly, she finally agreed.
She sheepishly started doing what he asked of her. Resisting him and fighting him every inch of the way. They finally got there and she started liking it. She started liking it a lot. At five PM when they had to leave the rehearsal studio, she said, “We’ve got to do it again.” She kept wanted to do it again and again until they were thrown out of the studio. The next day he asked her not to tell anyone in the company what they had done.

When she did it for the company, she got a standing ovation.
On the opening night, October 19th, 1995, Marge Champion was Lee Roy’s date.
After So Long, Dearie, she turned to Lee Roy and said, “Gower is so happy tonight because he never had time to fix that number. It was put in the show late.”
She told Lee Roy that he had fixed it.

There was not a huge difference from the 1978 revival in which Lee Roy played Cornelius Hackl and the 1995 revival in which he directed. Once again, they had the original sets and costumes.
In 1995, Jonathan Bixby “improved upon” Freddy Wittop’s original designs. Rosaria Sinisi, a disciple of Oliver Smith’s, was the scenic supervisor. They also went back and found the original Oliver Smith drawings. In 1964, the original palette of the Put on Your Sunday Clothes backdrops, for example had a lot more yellow in it.

As the years went on, there tended to be more reds. For ’95. they went back to the more subtler colors rather than the primary colors. The effect was brilliant. Lee Roy knew that now they were dealing with people’s memories of what the show was. It is a tough position to be in. In the Harmonia Gardens, Lee Roy said, “Rosaria, let’s decorate the staircase a little more. Let’s put lights down the rails and brass rods across the stairs.”
The original was just plain stairs with red carpet and a two cut out posts that flipped out and opened.
They put jewels on it. They did everything to decorate it. They put two rows of lights instead of one over the portal. They added lights to the side pieces. Rosaria didn’t want to do that. She said that wasn’t the way it had been done. People would still say to Lee Roy, That’s not the way I remember it! When that staircase came out, it filled the entire stage! It was all gold and light up.”
Carol with Charles Lowe behind her
It didn’t! People tend to remember it in a different way from what really was. The same thing was happening with Carol and her hats.
She said she was missing her entrance applause into the hat shop scene. Her hat and feathers had gotten so big that when she tried to make her entrance, the crossbar over the portal was stopping her. She was passing under it and it was brushing the feathers.
It was distracting the audience. She said Gower loved big hats. Lee Roy had a picture of the hat she originally wore. It was a pyramid green hat with a small feather that went one way and a back feather that went another way.

Lee Roy, Carol, Jerry Herman, Bill Bateman (Associate choreographer)
Lee Roy believes what he brings to the production as a director is an understanding of how Gower conceived it and Michael Stewart’s intention with the book.
It didn’t hurt with the 1995 revival that he had one of the most brilliant comediennes ever in show business who understood the development of the humor in the piece. Whenever he has directed the show, he has never ever asked any actress to even try to imitate anything that Carol ever did.
The blueprint is there. In the eating scene, for example, it is like choreography. There are beats that you do like learning a song. The pan comes up, you hit the spoon, beat, “Horace Vandergelder, you go your way. I’ll go mine”, beat beat. If you don’t do that big move so the audience sees the whole thing, you don’t get the laugh. You can be the greatest actress in the world and just say, “You go your way and I’ll go mine”, it won’t happen.  It is built in the way that Michael Stewart wrote it to get the laugh.
When Lee Roy worked with Madeline Kahn, she was a very introspective actress. Everything had to come from within.
First day of rehearsal, she said, “You realize I’m not big like Carol. I’m little.” Lee Roy told Madeline that Ruth Gordon was smaller than her and she invented the role. Then she said she couldn’t wear a big hat. He showed her what a little hat would look like on her.
Then, he showed her the effect a big hat would create. He explained that it would frame her face and give her theatricality. He told her they were not doing a movie. She had to have certain things in place that would frame the character. Madeline IS bigger than life. She had to get over her fears and preconceived notions.
She didn’t want to go out on the ramp the first time. She was scared to death. She said, “I feel like Miss America. Here she comes…” He said, “Madeline, you are in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant. The people in the audience are people sitting at tables in the restaurant. There’s Mr. Schwartz. There’s Mrs. O’Reilly.
There’s Mr. So and So. Dolly knows all these people. They know her. She is walking back into familiar territory. All the waiters are saying hello. Dolly is saying hello. She is not parading. ” She started getting there. Regarding “you go your way, I’ll go mine” , she said she didn’t do “bits.” Lee Roy said, “It is not a bit, Madeline, it’s a piece of business if you want to label it. Let me put it to you this way, you’ve got on long white gloves. You say, ‘you go your way and I’ll go mine’, and you take off your gloves. That takes away from doing a ‘bit’.” 
She thought about it for awhile and she stared Lee Roy down and said, “OK, I’ll do it” and she did.
Alix Korey (1978 production)
At the end of the scene, of course, she would do the line again as she’s serving the food. He told her, “You’ve got the spoon in one hand and the serving fork in the other. Again, you say, ‘You go your way and I’ll go mine’ and you take them and you put them down.”
She said, “ That’s cheap.” He said, “You got your f!@#ing motivation, didn’t you?” She burst out laughing and that was the end of it. It was a big time in Lee Roy’s life. Seeing Madeline Kahn become Dolly, learning everything…the choreography of the eating scene, everything. She never had to be directed on the Ephraim speeches. They were beautiful. Everyone expected Madeline to be a comic. She wasn’t. She was an actress who could be funny. She wasn’t like Jo Anne Worley or Carol Channing. She brought a whole different aspect to it and as they went through the show, it was wonderful to be able to give her this power to play Dolly. The night before she opened was the first time she heard the full score with an orchestra. The next afternoon, she had one dress rehearsal on stage with props and the orchestra, and she opened that night. It was incredible and she didn’t miss a beat. The kid playing Ambrose Kemper walked out on stage and froze. She said, “Don’t say a word, Mr. Kemper! I know what you’re about to say!”  She read his lines and hers without missing a beat. She was that kind of an actress. She was totally focused. When she went to the MUNY in St Louis, they did not pay to bring Lee Roy in. Tony Parise put that production together.
Madeline Kahn
She called Lee Roy the day after she opened and said, “Everything you told me to do got a laugh. I’ve never had this kind of confidence my entire career. I’m very insecure. I stew about everything. I drive directors crazy. I never had power on stage prior to this.” She was great. Sometimes, Lee Roy just wanted to say, “Shut up, Madeline, and do it!” You give her confidence and she returns it tenfold in a performance. It was something else. It was brilliant. Everyone who saw Madeline play that performance saw a great performance.
Later on, she was doing The Sisters Rosensweig, and Carol Channing and Lee Roy went to see the show together. Afterward, they went backstage. Madeline ran up to Lee Roy and grabbed him and kissed him and said, “You know? I never would have been able to do this play if I had not worked with you last summer on Dolly.” She and Daniel J. Sullivan, the director, did not see eye to eye, but she didn’t let it get in her way. When she put on that Chanel suit, she said to herself, “ Listen to what Lee Roy said. Take the stage. I’m Dolly on the ramp. I owe you this performance from working with you last summer.” Lee Roy told her that she would win the Tony for best actress. He advised her not to let Jane Alexander put her in the featured actress category. The night of the Tony Awards, she called Lee Roy at midnight. She said, “It’s mine but I called my mother first!”
Madeline, as Dolly, was totally different from Carol Channing. It was the same design. Madeline’s personality came into it. John Schuck, as Horace Vandergelder, and Madeline played well off of each other and they did the eating scene as perfectly as it was ever done. He was a great Horace. Lee Roy says he has always had wonderful Horaces. 
Lewis J. Stadlen
Lewis J. Stadlen was brilliant opposite Leslie Uggams and Randy Graff. It was interesting watching Randy dealing with having to play in one. She is a great actress. It is hard to face front and break that fourth wall. For Randy, it had to have a purpose. Lee Roy says it was fun watching Randy develop in that part. When Randy did it at the MUNY, they had the biggest staircase since Gone With the Wind! It was huge. It was difficult for her to get down those stairs because she was dealing with the dress and she had to hold on. It also took very long to walk down. Lee Roy said the only way to fix it was to put the boys on the staircase to help her down. It worked!  The boys ran up to meet her one after another. Michele Lee wanted to do the same thing in Kansas City. They couldn’t do that because of the sightlines. The stairs were too far upstage and with them being on the staircase, you couldn’t see Michele’s entrance. Because of the sightlines, they would have blocked her as she made her entrance. Lee Roy and Michele fought over this. He told her she had to go all the way front in order for the audience to see her.
Michele Lee
They couldn’t see her if she was too far upstage and they didn’t have enough lights and the spotlight couldn’t reach her. The spotlight would have hit the proscenium if she were too far upstage. It would have defused her entrance. It worked brilliantly at the MUNY so he owes that to Michele! Everybody does their own thing and a lot of time in stock when you have ten days, you don’t have a lot of time. He has told every actress he has directed as Dolly that if they want to get the most out of this, they have to show up at the first rehearsal completely off book. If they are not off book, they will never get through it. It’s too much dialogue. It’s too much to learn. There is so much business he has to give them. It’s like a little Swiss clock. If you want to get the most value, you’ve got to know your lines. Some did and some didn’t. They all came in trying. Some are better at it than others. Madeline was off book first day of rehearsal.    
There will be more revivals, Lee Roy believes. Unfortunately, he believes that the women who would be brilliant in it would not be hired by the producers.
Leslie Uggams
They are only looking for name value. He thinks Bernadette Peters would make a great Dolly Levi. Obviously, Patti LuPone. Tyne Daly. There are a lot of actresses who don’t have the name value but would be great Dollys. Debra Monk comes readily to mind. Ruth Williamson would be a wonderful Dolly. (Check out my chapter on her). There are a lot of actresses out there who are just perfect for this. Leslie Uggams was a wonderful Dolly in Houston.

They put Love, Look in my Window back in the show for Leslie. Leslie was a dream to direct. She did what she was asked to do. The only other actress who worked with who was totally like that was Chita Rivera. Leslie just did exactly what she was asked and sang it brilliantly. When they put Love, Look in My Window, Jerry Herman, who came down because Lee Roy and Leslie were working together, was very hands on with that production. Love, Look in my Window sort of spoils Before The Parade Passes By. They agreed that Leslie would sing part of it, leading into Dolly’s speech to Ephraim, which would then lead into Parade. Jerry said no. Window would have to have the big ending. “Come in and stay awhile.” Leslie and Lee Roy looked at each other questioning if that was right. Jerry was there and they were going to do what Jerry wanted. The night that the show opened, they did it Jerry’s way.
He said it would hold. Jerry said, Just let Leslie sing it.” He suggested she stand in one place.
Lee Roy moved her a little for the Ephraim speech. She stood and sang that song on opening night and got a standing ovation. Lee Roy then thought, “Oh, God! What is going to happen with Before The Parade Passes By? Leslie has just sung the s!@# out of Window.” At the end of Parade, ANOTHER STANDING OVATION! Lee Roy looked at Jerry and said, “I guess you really know what you’re doing.”  Jerry said, “That’s the way it should have always been done.”  They got a great review. Theater Under the Stars producer came back the next night and read the review to the audience. He said, “For the first time in decades, we got a good review.”
Everett Evans in the Houston Chronicle wrote, “Thanks to Leslie Uggams' lustrous singing and the delicious oomph of her maiden voyage in the famous title role; thanks to Lewis J. Stadlen delivering the funniest Horace Vandergelder since David Burns originated the role; thanks to golden-voiced romantic leads Kevin Earley and Glory Crampton; thanks to astute recreation of Gower Champion's inspired direction and choreography; and as always, thanks to Jerry Herman's irresistible score and Michael Stewart's expertly crafted book — this oft-seen warhorse once again is still glowing, still crowing, still going strong.”
Lee Roy was lucky to have been able to work hand in hand with members of the original creative team. It’s a very personal show to Lee Roy because Lucia Victor taught him the show. He worked with Gower on 42nd Street. He knows what goes into this show. He loves the fact that everyone says the only way to do a revival is to totally reinvent it where you have to rethink it and recast it. If a recipe makes the greatest cake that you’ve ever eaten in your whole life, why would you necessarily want to change the ingredients? You may want to make more of it or you may want to decorate it differently or you may want to add a little something extra. However, you can’t just give up the recipe. It works too well. What happens is the “party” and the people who are at that party, the actors, make it fresh. No one is ever going to be Carol Channing. Lee Roy doesn’t even ask of that. They all bring their own special “it” to the proceedings. The Hello, Dolly number choreographically, no matter who choreographs it, is never going to be better than Gower Champion’s choreography.
Jay Garner (Horace Vandergelder), Carol, Florence Lacy
When Lee Roy directed the ’95 revival, everything unfolded as he envisioned it and he would not change a thing. He is very meticulous when he directs. He did make a few changes.
At the end of Dancing, it ends with Barnaby and Minnie bowing and Minnie dancing around Dolly, she (Minnie) goes backwards, blows a kiss and she’s gone. That was not satisfying enough for Lee Roy. He went back to The Matchmaker. What Lee Roy did was have everyone on, principal wise.
Cornelius dances on with Dolly. Barnaby dances on with Mrs. Molloy and they all dance on together. Dolly and Cornelius are dancing and he bows and thanks Dolly and she sees Mrs. Molloy and she comes out and dances off with Cornelius. Barnaby is standing there and Minnie Fay comes on and dances around him. He grabs Minnie Fay and they go off together as a couple. Dolly says goodbye and she realizes that everyone is together and she is alone. She has no one in her life. She has just made these matches for everyone but herself. “Ephraim, Let me go. It’s been long enough.”
Hirschfeld, Margot Feiden Gallery
Lee Roy felt that those changes made the scene more powerful. When you work with actors, they also find things to do. Lee Roy does give them some freedom to discover. At the same time, you still have to build the road.

Lee Roy went into the ’95 revival as a NEW production.
Carol fought Lee Roy very hard in terms of looking at the show through new eyes. She spent so much time trying to remember. One day, thank God, she put down her black “bible” and was willing to start trusting Lee Roy.
 Hello, Dolly! is very dear to Lee Roy’s heart. Carol Channing is responsible for a lot of his career, as is Jerry Herman. One of the greatest joys of Lee Roy’s career is doing Jerry’s repertoire.

Lee Roy and Marge
 Jerry considers Lee Roy his favorite male singer. That is something Lee Roy is very proud of. Jule Styne said Jerry Herman is the Irving Berlin of his day. Some of the most satisfying moments of Lee Roy’s life have been with Jerry Herman. “Jerry Herman is a genius and I love him to death.”
Carol Channing and Charles Lowe are also responsible for so many of Lee Roy’s work habits. They taught him so much about the business. For the most part, they had a lot of fun. They had a lot of laughs, like a family. Also like a family, they’ve had their ups and their downs. The ups were certainly better than the downs ever were. Lee Roy is grateful for having that experience. Charles Lowe was a brilliant man. Every morning, as the clock struck nine AM, Charles had breakfast in his hotel room.
He had a list of things to do: check on the agents, get the publicity going, etc. When they played a town, there was no way not to know that Carol Channing was playing that town. She was on the weather report, she was on all the local programs. She was on the morning, midday, six PM, AND then rushing to the theater to do a show. It was incredible. Lee Roy has never seen anyone work like that. She did what a star should be doing. It was a great lesson in how to do it!

 Thank you Lee Roy 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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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 Randy Graff with her memories of her production of Hello, Dolly!


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!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fred Curt: Adventures with Barbra Streisand in Hello, Dolly!


Fred Curt
Fred Curt has the distinct pleasure of being a part of the 20th Century Fox production of Hello, Dolly!
The road to this film goes back further than most people think. The birth of its musical origins derived from Austrian Johann Nestroy’s 1842 play,Einen Jux Will Er Sich Machen that American playwright Thornton Wilder eventually reconceived and rechristened The Matchmaker, which is the basis of Hello, Dolly! (1842), (He Will Go on a Spree or He'll Have Himself a Good Time), is a three-act musical play, designated as a Posse mit Gesang, first performed at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 10 March 1842. The music was by Adolf Müller.
On stage, Hello Dolly! had been a grand old show sweeping the Tony Awards in ten categories in 1964 and was touted to be one of the greatest musicals ever to be filmed. The Matchmaker remains one of the great American plays from the latter half of the 20th century.
Is there anyone who doesn't know straight forward light-hearted tale,  which is blessed with winning songs by Jerry Herman, concerning a middle aged matchmaker employed by wealthy hay and feed merchant, Horace Vandergelder to secure himself a bride?
Michael Crawford and Barbra Streisand
When Fred was working on the film Star! Starring Julie Andrews, Michael Kidd came up to Michael and said, “What are you doing next year?” Fred responded by saying he didn’t even know what he would be doing the next day. Michael then informed Fred that he was going to be doing Hello, Dolly! starring Barbra Streisand and asked Fred if he would like to be one of the dancers in the film. Michael wanted Fred to be on the “skeleton crew.” A skeleton crew is like a nucleus of about twenty dancers, ten guys and ten girls. They learn all the numbers and when the director needs fifty people in a dance number, they bring the other people on and they are taught the dances. That way they save a lot of money. Michael was one to always make jokes. Therefore, Fred thought at first it was a joke. The film had already been announced in the Hollywood Reporter.
Star! was finished in December 1967. 

Filming for Hello, Dolly! began on April 15th, 1968 and lasted almost ninety days. There was a long rehearsal period prior to filming. The day that Barbra made her first appearance is a day Fred will never forget. 
Everyone had been anxiously waiting to meet her. Fred had never seen her. Please note that Funny Girl, the film, had not yet been released.  For Fred, prior to meeting her, she was just a voice. When she first arrived on the set, the first observation was that she was not very tall. 

She was wearing a mini skirt and a nice blouse and white boots. Within five minutes, she was one of the gang. 
She was unbelievable. They had a lot of fun with her.
Dolly would end up becoming a long period of work. Working with Michael Kidd is the greatest. Fred considers himself a Michael Kidd dancer. Working with Michael, you knew you were going to work very hard. Michael Kidd loved strong male dancers. Fred and Michael had also worked together on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Having Michael as choreographer, Michael was convinced that it would be a good movie. They got to go on location to West Point and Garrison, New York for exterior shooting.  They had fun except it was HOT! It was in the summer when they arrived for shooting.
Prior to doing the film, Fred had seen Carol Channing play the role. Fred does believe it is a good movie. We’ve all heard that Barbra was too young which Fred can see, as well. But as a movie, he thinks it is fine. Being involved, you also have a different outlook from those that were not. There were of course some aspects of the show that were gone. Who decides what the final product will be? He does feel that Michael Kidd did a great job on the movie. 
The dances  were not done as they were done originally by Gower Champion. With movies, everything is more visual. You can go anywhere. Instead of being a three person scene in a café, you can open up to include hundreds of patrons inside and outside the café. Then, you’re out in the streets singing and dancing. Fred can be seen in almost every number in the film. When they were filming Put on Your Sunday Clothes, the cast called it Take off your Sunday Clothes because it was so hot! Fred is also in the Waiter’s Gallop and Dancing. The finale wedding was filmed at West Point. Most of the “principal” dancers were not part of Before The Parade Passes By. At the time that was filmed, they were rehearsing other numbers, and thousands of extras had been hired to film that on the back lot of Twentieth Century Fox. A portion of the Fourteenth Street set still stands today.  The casting office went to the unemployment office to hire out of work actors for that sequence! The extras guild did not have as many people as they were requesting. They utilized five thousand extras! They did the same thing for the Harmonia Gardens to flesh it out. The parade sequence took one week to film. It was the most lavish movie Fred had ever been on.
Fred tells me that he cannot recall ANYONE EVER having to wait for Barbra Streisand. She was the consummate professional at all times and was just great. 
Michael Crawford and Danny Lockin
It’s easy for people to say that someone is temperamental…especially when they are not there to work with that person first hand…and it is doubly easy when it happens to be a woman. Streisand was disciplined from Broadway and she is a perfectionist. 
One day, she said something to a sound guys, as the cast and crew were standing there. She said something was not sounding right to her. The sound guy said, “Don’t worry, we can fix it.” And she said, “I just hear it differently.” The guy went, “Oh. OK.” What she hears and what they put out mechanically are two different things.

Fred doesn’t believe that Hello, Dolly! is one of the five best musicals ever written. He believes the greatest musical ever written in Singing in the Rain. Maybe Dolly IS one of the five, it’s hard to say. If you are up against a hip hop musical, how do you compare the two? You can’t. He does believe that Hello, Dolly! is one of the most gorgeous musicals on the screen. Set designer, John DeCuir  won the Academy Award for his set designs. He died in 1991. The day Fred walked onto the set for the Harmonia Gardens, his heart stopped. It was the most beautiful place he had ever been in. It was absolutely exquisite. Everything was perfect. He does feel the film is a little too long. He did not like Horace Vandergelder, not from the very beginning.  When I asked Fred what he was like on the set, his answer was, “Next question!” He did not treat Barbra very nicely according to various sources. 
When the film first came out, Fred was talking with Alice Faye. She had a desire to play Dolly. The powers at be at the time that she was too old. Fred thought, “How could they say that to Alice Faye? She MADE Twentieth Century Fox! He feels that she would have been a great choice at that time. He says we’re not old. We’ve just been here longer!
The premier in Hollywood was at Grauman's Chinese Theater in December 1969. It was a great night and to finally see the finished product. At times, on that screen in 70mm, Streisand looked like the most beautiful woman in the world. In So Long Dearie and in the title number, they came in for these close-ups in which she looked exquisite.  When you see pictures of her in the purple dress from Dancing and Before The Parade Passes By, that’s exactly how she looked on the set.  However, on film she looks so tall, and she isn’t. She looked beautiful.
He danced his ass off in that movie, his words! He loves being a part of this film. He is thrilled that Michael Kidd asked him personally to be a part of it. He is a huge admirer of Streisand and in happy to have worked with her. He got to go to work every day on something he was loving.   
Gene Kelly was wonderful as a director. He was a wonderful man. Imagine, as a dancer, getting to work with two of the movies most prolific choreographers in one film! Gene Kelly and Michael Kidd had previously worked together in It's Always Fair Weather. Kelly was always looking at the movie through that lyrical line to keep it moving. The line kept flowing.
Some numbers took a week to film. The Waiter’s Gallop  and Hello, Dolly! took a couple of weeks. It was very involved and people were constantly getting hurt. During the Dolly number, at one time, one of the dancers did a flip off of the steps onto a platform with a broom and hurt his foot. He was a blonde dancer. Michael asked Fred to take over that track. You see a blonde jump, and Fred, a brunette, land! There are several instances of that happening in the film. The choreography was hard.
Two of Fred’s favorite memories of the film both involve Put on Your Sunday Clothes.  When they were filming in Garrison, it was so hot that the street melted. They had remodeled the whole front of the town to look like 1890. 
They also blacktopped all of the streets. Then they stenciled it to look like cobble stones.  The day they went to shoot the number, the humidity was off the charts. In the middle of the number, Streisand screamed, “I’m sinking!” She wasn’t the only one. ALL of the dancers were melting into the blacktopped street! They had to stop shooting for the day because of this. Fifteen minutes after stopping, the street was melting down the hill like molten lava! It was that humid. Another memory also involving this number took place in the finale of this number on the train. They are weaving in and out with the choreography. This is in three sections. As they got to the third section, and the train is chugging along, Streisand suggested that everyone hide in the little baggage compartment on the train. She also suggested that only two or three remain visible to the film crew. When the production manager questioned where everyone was, they were told that the dancer/singers were taking a break and were at the other end where the train was traveling to. 
It was a mile from where they were filming. The production manager said, “For God’s sake, we now have to go back and get them!” All of a sudden, the doors burst open, and Streisand id the first one out. She said, “I had nothing to do with it! They grabbed me and pulled me in!” Gene Kelly looked at everyone as they stood there shaking their heads.
He knew this cast very well. He simply said, “OK. Let’s try it again.” They all thought, “God’s gonna get you, Barbra.” Later on, when they were singing with the playback, she went up on her lyrics drawing a complete blank. She looked at one of the singers and said, “What are the lyrics?” He said, “What do you mean? I’m leaning on you! You’re the star, I’m nobody.” It cracked everybody up. It was all friendly.
I asked Fred if there was anything he learned from Dolly that he has carried forward throughout the rest of his career. 
He said, “Not to dance outside in high humidity in upstate New York in July or August!”
Fred believes Barbra is a great actress AND funny. Lucille Ball once said to Fred that she was not funny. He disagreed with her. She said that she had great writers to make her look funny. She said she simply read it and did it. He thought at that moment that one has to be a great actor or actress in order to do that.  Barbra succeeded as Dolly as far as Fred is concerned.
 Thank you Fred 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 Lee Roy Reams with his memories of working on various productions of Hello, Dolly!


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!