Thursday, February 28, 2013

Virginia Seidel : Minnie Fay with Dorothy Lamour, Sheila MacRae, and Sylvia Syms!

Virginia Seidel

In 1971, Virginia Seidel appeared in Hello, Dolly at the Milwaukee Melody Top with Dorothy Lamour and Jack Bailey. That was her first adventure as Minnie Fay.

Virginia started out as a little “brat” at her mother’s dancing school in a suburb of Chicago. As she got a little older, Virginia’s mom decided not to have her around the studio because she was causing trouble.  She started going to another school, with a more serious approach to ballet. That led her to getting cast in George Balanchine’s Nutcracker. For two seasons, when they were in Chicago, they cast Chicago residents to round out the cast. Each time, interestingly enough, it was at Easter! Virginia’s mother just happened to know the ballet mistress, Vita Brown. Later on, Virginia got to play a page in the Royal Ballet production of The Sleeping Beauty when she was in the eighth grade. She kept on with her ballet training which is very fortunate because it got her into Actor’s Equity at the St. Louis MUNY Opera. That was the summer of 1968. While she was appearing there, Pearl Bailey brought her Dolly Company to the MUNY the week of July 30th. It was a huge hit! The MUNY Company was also thrilled that they had those nights off. They got to see the show. Pearl Bailey’s singing was superb. Later on Virginia also saw Ethel Merman and was blown away by her singing. That same summer, Virginia did Call Me Madam with Merman as part of the ensemble. After Virginia the MUNY and moved to New York, Merman was starring in Dolly on Broadway. This was the summer of 1969.  
That led to her going to New York City. She had met so many other dancers who were about her age. Four women including Virginia decided to room together to cut costs. 
They were all dancers. Renee Bauman ended up getting Applause and eventually A Chorus Line.  Julie Pars was in the original Follies. Another continued in ballet and opera work. Virginia went along taking classes with Luigi. One of her first jobs that she got in New York was Take Me Along at the Meadowbrook Dinner Theater with Ray Milland. This was before Love Story came out.
 The director of Meadowbrook Dinner Theater was Stuart Bishop. During the summer, he was the artistic director of Milwaukee’s Melody Top and that is how she ended up there two years later. He had cast her in The Boyfriend with Leland Palmer at Meadowbrook and consequently. Leland was supposed to be Minnie Fay for Stuart at Melody Top but she got cast in the National tour of Applause and she recommended Virginia and she got the part.
Ray Milland in Take Me Along
 She was very excited to get cast especially since it was kind of handed to her. She was thrilled. She never thought that something like that would ever happen to her where she didn’t have to audition for something. That didn’t happen a lot after.   
Because of Virginia’s work at St. Louis Opera and Meadowbrook, she had appeared with stars of Dorothy Lamour’s status. She had appeared with Douglas Fairbanks in My Fair Lady at The MUNY. She did Call Me Madam with Merman, and The Pajama Game with John Rait. There was an ensemble of twenty-four dancers and thirty-six singers, an ensemble of sixty! Virginia was part of that ensemble. As far as being a principal, appearing alongside Dorothy Lamour was a big first. Lamour was so nice to everybody.
The Gower Champion choreography was what attracted her most to Hello, Dolly! It is such a beautiful dancing show.

(Courtesy: Dan Pagel ("Memories of Melody Top")
Lamour had done a huge tour of Dolly prior to doing it at Melody Top. This was 1971 and she was 57 at the time. They rehearsed a week and it was in the round outside. This was in the days of Tent Theater. She never had a cross word about anyone or anything. Everything just sailed along. They were so busy that there wasn’t much time for socializing. However, Lamour did throw a party for the company. Her husband was also a very nice man, always helping out with everything. Also, Don George, who was Cornelius, was a very good friend of hers. That was a very good idea. He appeared with her in several productions of Dolly and added to her confidence. Lamour was also concerned for Virginia after the first act one night. Virginia fell in the pit! She had to bouree, a dance step, backwards. She was doing this step, facing Lamour, as she is saying goodbye, and she fell in the pit. It happened again the very next day! Lamour insisted on them changing that step to avoid it happening a third time. With the original choreography, that was meant to be done in a proscenium where Minnie is backing off backwards into the wings. There was always someone to catch her. In the round, a good portion of that round is a pit.
Virginia did not remain in touch with Lamour after this production.  It was a typical summer stock production. They rehearsed for seven days and ran for two weeks. Once the show was up and running, Virginia was rehearsing their next production, George M, during the day.
(Courtesy: Dan Pagel ("Memories of Melody Top")
Virginia loved appearing as Minnie Fay in this production as she did with the ones to follow. She loved playing Minnie; Elegance was a favorite of hers every performance. The script is so good. She always got a huge laugh, as she is sure all Minnies have, when Mrs. Molloy desires to take a taxi and Cornelius insists on them walking. He can’t afford it and says, “Really elegant people walk.” Minnie says, “To think I’ve been elegant all of my life and I never knew it!” It is an innocent line but always got a huge laugh every performance.  Virginia was not that experienced as an actress when she first played Minnie Fay.  She also brought that innocence to her portrayal. The lines just carried her in addition to the very experienced cast she was with. Most had appeared in Dolly previously either on Broadway or on tour.   
She just slipped right in and matched up with everyone.
(Courtesy: Dan Pagel ("Memories of Melody Top")
Minnie Fay first appears mid Act in Act One. After that, she is kind of onstage for almost all of the rest of the act. The hat shop scene leads into the big dance number at the end of the act. She learned early on that she really had to warm up in preparation for each performance. She took a dance class each day. It was during Sunday Clothes that she was always backstage plie-ing and pointing. She knew, otherwise, she would not have a chance. She has maintained that discipline and preparation throughout her career since then.        
Virginia was young when she played Minnie Fay and brought that youth to the show. She also had great ballet training. 
(Courtesy: Dan Pagel ("Memories of Melody Top")
The dancing suited her. She was never much of a jazz dancer. Ballet was the main part of her dance. She was always go grateful to have been cast. Two of the productions were directed by Stuart Bishop. 
In addition to the Lamour Company, Virginia also did it with Sheila MacRae. That was done at Meadowbrook which followed the Milwaukee Company. Two years later, Virginia appeared as Minnie Fay for the last time. That was with Sylvia Syms. 
Streisand on the set of the film Dolly with son Jason
Virginia did audition for the 1978 Carol Channing but did not get it. Truthfully, she was a little too old for Minnie Fay at the time.  When the movie came out in December 1969, Virginia saw it. She thought it was very lavish. Of course, Barbra was the youngest Dolly ever.
All three Dollys were very different. Dorothy was so beloved by the audiences who remembered her from her film career. They were thrilled to see her LIVE and in person.
None of these Dollys were really “singers”.  Sylvia was a great jazz nightclub singer. Sylvia Syms was  66 when she appeared in Dolly in ’73 throughout the Boston area. She had also been in a terrible auto accident. The Company was worried as to whether or not she would be able to make it through the rehearsal period. It is an extremely demanding show. She wasn’t a stage actress. Her voice tended to be more of a smoky nightclub jazz sound. She really put across that lower East side type of persona in Dolly.
Lamour had done a National bus and truck tour and Vegas prior to Melody Top
Virginia’s favorite Dollys of the ones she appeared with was Sheila. Dorothy was wonderful, but that was only three weeks. She didn’t really didn’t get to know her. Her run with Sheila was two months and it was during the Christmas season. The theater supplied her with a limousine and she very often brought the four principals back into the city with her after the evening performances. She took them to Downey’s and PJ Clarke’s. She always picked up the tab. Virginia was agog. She had a big Christmas party at her town house. Virginia had never been in a townhouse before in which the owner’s owned the entire building!  She was floored. Her daughter Heather was there. She was appearing in Hair at the time.    
Barnaby and Cornelius’ adventures in New York reminded Virginia of her own experiences of coming from a small suburb and moving to New York City. Even though Virginia grew up outside Chicago and even worked in Chicago as a dancer, everybody desires to get to New York.  It is such an optimistic show. It has a wonderful feeling about it. The fact that it has been performed all over the world and continues to be performed is proof in the pudding.
When Virginia was younger, she didn’t pay much attention to the fact that Dolly is a widow. She remembers being confused by the name/ Who was she? Levi or Gallagher? She also remembers, at first, wondering “Who and where is this Ephraim she keeps talking to?” Looking back now as an older woman, Virginia realizes even more so how moving those speeches are. Virginia is now a widow herself. It is very touching that she is seeking a sign of Ephraim’s approval for her to marry Horace.
Jerry Herman
Virginia also feels that Jerry Herman has also made such a great contribution to the world. At the top of his reign, it was musical comedy as opposed to musical theater. Virginia has also appeared in Mame as Gloria Upson.

The Sylvia Syms tour traveled throughout the Boston area appearing in a chain of dinner theaters called the Chateau de Ville. It was reputed to be mafia owned and operated. People called it Chateau de Vile. They were actually wonderful theaters. They were big theaters with HUGE lobbies. They were nice stages. 
They had union orchestras. The costumes were gorgeous. The salaries were good. When these theaters opened, the locals were expecting these to be casinos. The hope was that when and if gambling was legalized, they were ready. It, of course, never happened. The final leg of this tour was in Warwick Rhode Island. 
There were three theaters in the Boston area, one in Providence, and on in Warwick. This was at the peak of the dinner theater boom. It is sad that it didn’t last because it employed a lot of people. It was also great experience. Summer stock was already disappearing from our cultural landscape.
Sylvia Syms
Closing night, Virginia had already been out of New York City for six months. It was a good job, but everyone was anxious to get home. Things were winding down and it was time to go home. Because Sylvia was an older woman, there weren’t a lot of parties with the cast. She needed her rest. She wasn’t hanging out with the cast.
Virginia loved Minnie Fay. She loved being part of three very different Dollys. When she auditioned for the Chateau de Ville Dolly, she had an agent by this time and she was submitted. She went in and auditioned for Jack Timmers. He was one of the three original stage managers on Hello, Dolly! He was a partner of Lowell Purvis, who was one of the dancers in the show. Dolly had three stage managers, Pat Tolson, Lucia Victor, and Jack Timmers. When Virginia auditioned for the Chateau de Ville Company, they did not know her. She came in and read initially. They had her come back and dance for them. Before she walked out of that audition, Timmers said to her, “Where have you been all of our lives?”  As if to say she was a great Minnie Fay and they had never seen her before. Perhaps she would have been a Broadway Minnie if the opportunity had presented itself at the right time.

Thank you Virginia Seidel 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 desire 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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Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

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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!



Monday, February 25, 2013

Frank Parr – Barnaby in Hello Dolly with Madeline Kahn

Frank Parr 1992 (Courtesy Frank Parr)

Frank Parr actually wasn’t terribly familiar with Hello, Dolly until he did it for the first time.  In that regard he discovered it in the best way possible– by sort of living it.  He thinks the moment where he fell in love with Dolly the character is when she sings Before The Parade Passes By.  
It is actually such a compelling and emotional song.  And when done right it serves as its own sort of Rose’s Turn.

Obviously Carol Channing defines the role. You really can’t beat that. 
He really enjoyed working with Marilyn Farina earlier at Theater By The Sea in Matunuk, Rhode Island as Dolly.  She brought a bawdy and hilarious Dolly Levi to life.  H still loves to catch the Barbra Streisand version. He would love to see Bette Midler or Queen Latifah  play the part.
A 17 year old Dolly, Samantha Rehr Westin High School
Frank thinks it’s funny how high schools do the show.  It really is a different experience to see a 17 year old play Dolly.  I mean that gal needs to have an old soul!

This incredibly talented composer, Jerry Herman, has not only created songs that have become Broadway standards. On a larger scale, they have become part of the American songbook; that’s an incredible achievement.  One knows a Jerry Herman song when they hear it – there’s a happiness and hopefulness to it – even the melancholy ballads seem to possess an optimistic point of view.

  Frank is sure he heard the song Hello Dolly long before he can remember. He really paid attention to the score on the table read the first time he did Dolly.  One of his favorite moments when performing in the show is when Cornelius sings, “Out there! There’s a world outside of Yonkers!”  It’s such an exciting moment because that moment kicks off their adventure.  It was also cool because technically two spotlights hit Cornelius and Barnaby at that moment and for a second Frank was kind of transported into the glow of white light where you can’t see much else.  That was really fun from an actor’s point of view.
Fox Theater, Atlanta (Courtesy Frank Parr)

By the time Frank got the opportunity to play Barnaby Tucker opposite Madeline Kahn, it was actually his third production of Hello Dolly! He had been in a summer stock production at The Mount Washington Playhouse – in the chorus.  A year later, he played Barnaby at Theater-by-the-Sea in Rhode Island directed by the wonderful Richard Sabellico.  Marilyn Farina, the original Mother Superior from NUNSENSE was their fantastic Dolly. Not long after that production there were auditions in New York for the tour with Madeline Kahn.
It would be the show that got Frank his Equity card. He was pretty nervous when he learned it was Lee Roy Reams directing. He was kind of overwhelmed.
As a kid, Frank had worn out his LP of 42ND STREET. 
Lee Roy had the quintessential Broadway voice and that record needle replayed his solos a thousand times so Frank could sing along in his living room. Frank still has that album somewhere.   
John Schuck and Frank (Courtesy Frank)
He went to the audition at 890 Broadway and sang an old Robert Morse tune called Undressing Girls With My Eyes from So Long 174th Street.  It went well and then Lee Roy showed Frank a few dance steps as he recalls. Frank thinks there was a callback and then he got the call. Upon discovering he would be working with Madeline Kahn he was pretty psyched to say the least, and a little nervous. But more than anything he was thrilled to be working with Lee Roy and doing Hello Dolly again. What was great about Lee Roy was his sense of humor.

Everyone knew they were in capable hands.  He of course knew the show like the back of his hand.  He made Frank feel comfortable in a kind of daunting scenario.  Frank was definitely the newbie of the group.
Frank really appreciates that Lee Roy made him feel at ease and confident onstage.
Lee Roy would remind the cast to have fun.  Lee Roy was always upbeat and of course he knew the show from every angle so once the staging was set and the scenes rehearsed, he encouraged everyone to go out and have a wonderful time. And they did.

Frank with Madeline Kahn (Courtesy Frank)
Frank views Barnaby as an idealistic – you might say naïve - young man who was thrilled to learn and experience anything that came his way.  Frank is from Maine originally so he could definitely understand his wide eyed amazement at a world outside of Yonkers.  He was having the adventure of a lifetime and so was Frank in this production.

Frank would probably approach it the same way if he was able to go back in time but maybe ground it a bit more. One learns so much as an actor as they get older.  Frank watched the way Madeline approached the role -- really playing the scenes instead of falling into mannerisms and playing for the laughs. It’s easy, especially when one is young and doesn’t have a ton of time to rehearse, to fall into clichéd bits.
But a lucky actor lives and learns and hopefully gets better.
Frank would be thrilled to see a film of the original production of Hello, Dolly starring Carol Channing. Unfortunately he doesn’t think it was ever caught on camera – which is a shame because it was a really great show. 

The audiences were so receptive. 

But thinking about this now really brings back a ton of memories.
Even though it’s the same show, the specific cast members make it so unique. 
Frank was primarily familiar with Madeline Kahn of course from the Mel Brooks comedies. She was hilarious in them and a true one-of-a-kind.  Her unique point of view and subtle turn of phrase could find comedy in the most mundane things.
He does remember being star struck when she first walked into the rehearsal studio.  Now this was a movie star.

Madeline Kahn was remarkably shy at first – which was surprising as she was famous for such outrageous characters. 
Rehearsing Elegance (Courtesy Frank)
Often the most brilliant comics are really shy. But once they spent a bit of time together rehearsing she was charming, friendly, and definitely funny. 

Frank admits that he was kind of intimidated at first. But she was really generous as an actor and wanted to find the moments and truth of the scene.
Once she focused on that, the nerves went away.  There really wasn’t time to be nervous anyway for Frank – they had to get this show up pretty quickly. 
That was a blessing in its own way.

Dolly cast and Frank (Courtesy Frank)
They did have her sing a few bars of Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life at one point during the title number. That always got the crowd going.  What Frank remembers most is that she always wanted to play to the truth of the scene. 
She was a great actress.  It was right after this production that she won the Tony for The Sisters Rosensweig. She approached her craft with utmost professionalism and respect for other actors. Inspiring!

He was also fortunate enough to be working with some real pros like James Darrah, Colleen Fitzpatrick and Lori Ann Mahl and Horace Vandegelder was played by John Schuck – he was so nice to Frank and Frank was really star struck by him as well – having seen him on TV and movies for so many years.

It was a great experience and Frank feels fortunate to have been a part of it.
Colleen Fitzpatrick, James Darrah, Lori Ann Mahl (Courtesy: Frank)
If Frank could go back, with the knowledge he has now, what would you do differently?

He would take more pictures and would have bought a camcorder!  He can’t say he has any regrets – He was pretty aware at the time how special it was.

Frank would like to think he brought his spirit to the show. 
He was in a way as naïve as Barnaby – he had just recently graduated from NYU and he does remember breaking down the scenes into beats – if only he could find those notebooks!
He wasn’t the best dancer in the world by his own admission but he had so much fun onstage.  That enthusiasm hopefully reached to the back row!
They had to adapt to a different theater each week, that in and of itself causes one to continue to tweak their performance.
Mic Packs holder
There were notes of course and fine tuning along the way.

Colleen Fitzpatrick was Irene Molloy. Wonderful voice and fun personality – great stage presence and beautiful. Everyone understood why Cornelius would fall for her.
For Frank, it was really more about what Dolly did for him personally. Of course it is great to have on the resume, but what it did more than anything for him was make him desire to go back to acting class and learn more.
Madeline Kahn really approached the musical from an actor’s perspective.
He was inspired by it and eager to learn more. 

Frank has definitely learned that a show is only as strong as its weakest link. 
They all had to rely on one another – especially with the type of physical comedy involved. 
An actor is as responsible to his fellow artists as much as they are to themselves.

Frank thinks the show has had staying power because Dolly is kind of magical – she’s this offbeat woman with a big personality and even bigger heart.  

He was thinking about the movie Amelie – it has a similarity – someone who comes in and influences those around her in a way that brings people together, the Matchmaker. 
At this point the songs are so ingrained in our culture – particularly the title song – it transcends the musical theater crowd.  It is for everyone. 
Frank today (Courtesy Frank)

Frank wouldn’t call this a “worst” experience but he does remember during the Dancing number, he was backstage and started talking to Ms Kahn – and they were chatting and laughing about something and she nearly missed her cue.  She was sweet about it but needless to say they kept the small talk for intermission after that! 
Why does Frank think the HELLO, DOLLY number itself stops the show? It’s a moment where the audience can really appreciate both the star and character. It gives them time to catch their breath before the race to the end of the show.  And it’s also a point where Dolly Levi is indeed back after a difficult time in her life and is finally embracing her old life again.  That’s something everyone can relate to and cheer on.

What is your fondest memory of John Schuck? His laugh.  Just in general he exuded good humor and warmth. And John Schuck was really approachable.  He was such a veteran.
Working with someone that confident elevates the rest of the cast. Frank understands why reputation and experience are so valued, especially with the budgets of theses shows.
Conrad John Schuck

James Darrah (Cornelius) was very generous and fun to work with.  Frank  kind of looked up to him as he was a more experienced performer and a bit older than him.  The dynamic between Cornelius and Barnaby is similar so it felt really natural.  James and Frank had several bits that they had to depend on each other – timing and things – and Frank always felt assured that James was reliable.
At what point did Frank know this was going to be a great Dolly? He knew it before they even started rehearsing. With Lee Roy directing and Madeline Kahn starring, how could it go wrong?  He wasn’t mistaken!

Frank would love to play Cornelius.  It is such a fantastic role.  Or perhaps direct the show someday.  The wonderful thing about Hello Dolly is that  it is timeless. Frank doesn’t  necessarily see it being reinvented with a rock score but that’s the beauty of it.  We need classic musicals to be revived for future generations to enjoy.

Madeline Kahn
Frank thinks the reason people love Hello, Dolly so much is that it evokes an innocence and optimism that is hard to find these days.  The characters in the show grow and explore outside of their comfort zone. The time that Frank was appearing in Dolly was a time when he did the same thing. It was an unforgettable experience he is grateful to have had.  

Thank you Frank Parr for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,

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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 Joan Shea (Understudy to Dorothy Lamour)

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!