Monday, April 29, 2013

Choreographer and Dancer Randy Slovacek on Hello, Dolly!



Randy Slovacek
At this point, it is hard to count how many productions of Hello, Dolly, Randy Slovacek has been involved in. His first production was the Broadway revival in 1995, they rehearsed in June and July of 1994 and went on the road for about fourteen months, went to Broadway, and then six months after they closed on Broadway, Carol Channing and company put the tour back on the road.

It was at that time that Lee Roy Reams, who had directed this company , asked Randy to stage it. Randy had been the dance captain and swing and was also covering for Barnaby. Carol desired to keep Randy on stage because she wanted familiarity. She wanted people on the stage that she was used to working with. Lee Roy was now playing Cornelius(played on the preceding tour and revival by Michael DeVries), in what was now a bus and truck tour, when they got out of town again, Randy basically taught the new swing his track first in case there was an emergency. Because he knew the show, Randy could do something else and the new swing could go on in his spot and they could go on from there. For the techs, the new swing went on in Randy’s place and Randy sat out in the house watching everything and then he would share with Lee Roy what was going on tech wise. Basically, Lee Roy needed to run Cornelius’ part and an outside eye was needed and Randy became the show’s supervisor by default. Technically, this bus and truck company was essentially Randy’s second time with the show. Along the way, he has done seven or eight productions of Hello, Dolly!
As of this writing, he is staging the National Asian Artist’s Project’s Concert staging of Hello, Dolly
Christine Toy Johnson as Dolly Levi
produced by Baayork Lee, directed by Lee Roy Reams, and starring Christine Toy Johnson.
After the bus and truck with Carol Channing, Randy was asked to do it at the MUNY with Grechen Wyler in 1997 who was “just perfection.” Randy had also done a National tour of 42nd Street with her. Randy and Lee Roy were supposed to do the MUNY production together. Instead, Jerry Herman, Florence Lacy, and Lee Roy went to Broadway with An Evening with Jerry Herman (28 July 1998). Lee Roy was unable to do MUNY, so the producer ended up directing since he knew Gretchen and he brought Randy in who ended up choreographing it the first time without Lee Roy. He has done it a few times without Lee Roy, but primarily the productions he has been involved in were with Lee Roy. Randy LOVES LOVES LOVES doing the show with Lee Roy. They always begin every production by saying to each other, “It is an adventure, Barnaby.” Randy has the best time with Lee Roy.
When they did it with Leslie Uggams in Houston at Theater Under the Stars, Lee Roy was to be working with the principals and Randy with the ensemble. When he was working on the dancers for the dancing number, they kept saying to him, “Lee Roy said you would know what we should be doing!” Randy’s first thought was “Nobody knows the show better than Lee Roy Reams.” Lee Roy is a fantastic choreographer and dancer himself, but he is very supportive to say, “Ask Randy. He’ll know what to do.” Again, Randy would think, “If anybody knows what to do, it will be Lee Roy Reams!” They would continually go back and forth with this. 
They are definitely on the same page as to where the show is going and what the beats are every time they do it, no matter who the different Dollys and Cornelius’ are. That makes it always different and that is also what is so exciting about it. Those are roles to be acted and people can bring their personalities to it. It is the arc of the piece that they are always on the same page with. There is no, “Well, what do you think?”

They were asked to do it again, this time with Randy Graff, also at the MUNY. They had an ENORMOUS staircase. Lee Roy and Randy looked at each other and thought, “What are we going to do with THAT!?!?” Lee Roy had this fabulous idea. He suggested putting all the men ON the stairs on each side. It was very much like Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend number from the film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. When the waiter says, “She’s here”, rather than having them run into formation, they all ran up and lined this huge staircase. The staircase was also very wide and she worked her way down the stairs grabbing the hands of the waiters as she made her way down. 
  Lee Roy came up with this great idea. As they began working on it, the concept began to expand. When they have the opportunity to make something bigger and better, they run with it, never taking away from the original intent. Lee Roy is not afraid of trying new things and he tells Randy all the time to keep that in mind with this choreography. For example, in Dancing and in The Waiter’s Gallop, in most proscenium stages, actors are running around backstage making entrances and exits. At the MUNY, because of its immense size, that is an impossibility. It is beyond huge; there is no running around a stage to enter from the opposite side of one’s exit. Whatever side they exit is where they re-enter. From the very beginning, Randy desires to be very true to Gower Champion’s original choreography and his original intent. Lee Roy told Randy that as long as he had the style and the original intent of the show, that was the most
Randy Graff

important aspect. However, when necessity required him to change anything, that was ok. He told him to add cross overs and waltzes if need be. He told Randy to run with it. They had the dancers, “Use them!” That freedom is something that Randy has taken with him beyond the MUNY. Lee Roy has allowed Randy to play with this at times, to adapt to the situations at hand. That sometimes may not lend itself to the original. Sometimes Lee Roy gets a new idea and he starts dancing. Randy can’t say enough good things about Lee Roy Reams.
Lee Roy was the one who hired Randy for Carol Channing’s last tour and Broadway revival. He was the last person hired. This happened about five days before rehearsals began. The show had actually been cast for two or three months at this point. A six foot plus actor who had been cast ended up getting cast in the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls. A casting notice went out to replace him and a hundred and fifteen guys showed up. It was the day that Randy got his last unemployment check. Times being what they were, Randy was desperately auditioning. This audition took place on a Wednesday. They immediately cut thirty guys after the first dance combination. They then cut fifteen more after that combination was done again. It was whittled down to fifteen and those sang. In the middle of all that, the rumor started circulating among the guys that they were actually looking for someone six foot two. They needed someone who could fit the costume of the guy they were replacing. Randy thought to himself that he wasn’t going to get it. 
They were looking for someone six foot two and he is five foot eight. Since he “wasn’t going to get it anyway”, he threw caution to the wind. He goes in and sings for Lee Roy who happens to like big voices. Randy has a big voice as a performer. After singing, Lee Roy says, “Where were you three months ago? That’s very nice!” Randy told Lee Roy that he was working then and then pointed to his bag as he crossed the room to retrieve it before exiting, and said, “But I’m unemployed now and my last unemployment check is in that bag on its way to the credit union and baby needs a new pair of shoes!” Lee Roy screamed with laughter. He thought it was so funny that Randy was being sassy. Randy walks out and goes home. About an hour later, he gets a phone call and as he answers it, all he hears is, “Are you sittin’ down?” Randy says, “Excuse me?” and the caller repeats, “Are you sittin’ down?” At this point, Randy is looking out his window at Ninety fourth and West End Avenue in NYC imagining a scenario out of Hitchcock’s Rear Window
He’s wondering if someone can see him. The voice kept repeating the same question to Randy. The voice then says, “You got it!” It was the late Mark Reiner, the casting director. It took a few seconds for the math to add up in Randy’s head and then Randy asked, “Dolly?” This was one hour after the audition. That was how he got cast. He was the last person to be cast. He said to Mark, “You know I’m not six foot two, right?” Lee Roy wanted Randy and he picked him. Once the show closed on Broadway, as stated earlier, he picked Randy to set the show. That began a wonderful friendship. First of all, doing Hello, Dolly on Broadway with Carol Channing was beyond measure. Then to be asked to stage and supervise it, and working with Jerry Herman, who came out from time to time, during the tour.
Jerry Herman
When they did it at Houston’s Theater Under the Stars with Leslie Uggams, Jerry Herman came out and they put Ethel Merman’s Love, Look in my Window back into the show. Randy has had an amazing ride with Dolly because Lee Roy gave him that chance. Randy always credits Lee Roy with the incredible gifts of Dolly.
Randy did the entire 94/95 tour, a year and a half, culminating with the Broadway revival. The Broadway Revival, unfortunately, was short lived. According to Randy, there were several factors with that. First and foremost, when they closed, January, 28th, 1966 at the end of 11 previews and 116 performances, everyone in the business knows that January and February is the toughest time on Broadway. 
Julian Brightnan, Randy Slovacek, Bill Bateman
This is true for everybody. They opened in October and so they had been running about four months by the time they closed. So, factor one was that it was a slow period. Another factor is that they HAD toured for fourteen months before they got to Broadway. Randy admits he doesn’t understand the financial factors, but he does know that producers make more money on the road than they do on Broadway. The tour was good for producer Manny Kladitis. They did very well on the road because of Carol Channing. The only reason this tour took place was because of Carol and the entire company knew it and felt blessed because of this. When a tour takes place for fourteen months before Broadway, think about it, who goes to Broadway a lot? 
Tourists from all these towns that Dolly played, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Louisville, St. Louis, Miami, for example, had seen it. It had been part of the season in most major theaters around the country. When a show opens on Broadway, that hasn’t toured, that is the only place you can see it. A lot of Dolly’s potential Broadway audience had already seen it. The next factor was everyone knows revivals don’t usually run that long, unless it’s Chicago. Randy was also blessed to be in that show.
Dancing with Carol and the guys at Gypsy of the Year in Dec 2010.
This was used by the NY Times to promote the documentary.
Also, please note that this production of Hello, Dolly was a direct revival. It was Gower Champion’s original choreography. It WAS Carol Channing and many people had seen it, or felt like they had. Randy would hear people say, “We saw Carol do it.” Even from people who had not seen this production. In their mind’s eye, they HAD seen it. And with some people, they were so familiar with the show that they THOUGHT they saw her do it. When people were making their Broadway choices, they wanted to see something new. There were many factors that contributed to the early closure. Randy would have stayed with the show for as long as it ran. They were having a love fest and they all were like a family. No one left that production throughout its fourteen month tour and four month Broadway run. The entire length of time from start to finish was a twenty two month period.
http://outsmartmagazine.com
The show closed at the end of January of ’96 and they went back on the road in July. First of all, working in Hello, Dolly with Carol Channing was a great job. At first, Manny Kladitis and a few others thought they would go “five, six, seven, eight” and they would be off and running again. The feeling was that it would not take much rehearsal. However, only thirty percent of that company came back. Most of those people had gotten other jobs in the interim. They lost John Bantay to the King and I revival. Other people were doing other things. It wasn’t that anyone did not desire to come back because they didn’t enjoy it. Some people didn’t want to leave home again for a lengthy time again. They had already been away for fourteen months before. Some had lost interest. They had done their first Broadway show and it was now easier for them to be looked at for other Broadway shows. It  was seventy percent a new company. Randy, when he was asked to stage this show, at first, thought it would be a piece of cake. That was NOT the case!
The extended road tour that started in July of ’96 would take this company into February of 1997. 
Leslie Uggams and Randy opening night of "Hello, Dolly!" in Houston
This tour consisted of week and split week stops. They never did less than two or three days in any city. It was a little different than what they would refer to as a First National Company. Prior to Broadway, THAT tour would find them in major cities for two or three weeks at a time, but never less than a week stay . They played the Kennedy Center in Washington DC prior to Broadway for a month. After Broadway, those stops were shorter.
Halfway or two thirds into that tour, Charles Lowe got sick and had to leave the show for a while. It was very sad for everyone because they WERE a family. It was very odd and weird not to have Charles with them. He had been there EVERY day from the very beginning of Randy’s Hello, Dolly journey. 
They were very used to him being there. It was as if a cast member was gone.
When Randy was at the documentary of the screening of Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, he, along with the other Dolly boys from that production, was shocked to see how Charles was being depicted. It didn’t paint Charles in a flattering light. Randy never saw that side of Charles. Randy never saw any unhappiness from Carol. Randy was never witness to any of that. They were a loving married couple as far
Randy, Vanessa Williams and Michael Caprio after her Las Vegas Concert nSource: Randy Slovacek
as Randy could see. He was with them over a two and a half year period with six months off and, again, never saw ANY of that. Randy is not going to weigh in on whether it happened or not. He is not aware of what went on behind closed doors. They never saw any of that negative portrayal of Charles.
As a dancer, the show is physically demanding. The hardest part is in Act Two going from the Gallop right into the title song. That segues shortly after into the Polka. It is non stop! It is very athletic dancing. Randy loved it. He was in great shape because of the show and he enjoyed the style of the show. Having since did Chicago on Broadway, with the Fosse style, which is a whole other world, he enjoyed both styles. The
Randy's favorite picture of him and his partner, Michael (Source: Randy Slovacek)
Gower Champion style of dancing came very easily to Randy in terms of a very clean style that he had. Gower clearly knew that if he took a really terrific step, and it didn’t have to be a complicated step, but a really terrific step that is really clean and reads , and you get 18 people to do it, like the Duck Walk at the end of Hello, Dolly, the house is going to be brought down. Having done 42nd Street, and Dolly, and dissecting these shows and teaching it to dancers, he has really come to have a great appreciation for Gower’s genius. It is, however, physically demanding. When Randy set the National tour of Dolly, that was even more demanding. Having been in the show for a year and a half, at that point, he knew HIS part, but there was 40% of the show that he didn’t know. Having to learn all of the women’s parts and the men’s and understanding how it all came
Jay Garner (Horace), Carol, Florence Lacy
together also contributed to Randy understanding Gower’s genius. It was intimidating at first because he

wanted to get it right…for Lee Roy and for Jerry. Anytime he does it, it is a big undertaking. It’s a big show. As a choreographer, he ends up staging eight or nine big numbers and it is never everyone doing one step and the number is done.
 There are complicated steps. Every time Randy starts, on day one, he is standing there in his rehearsal clothes and he thinks, “Well, here we go!” He just starts, along with his dancers, and they just have to get it done. 
 Fortunately, what helps in many of these situations, Lee Roy will stage So Long, Dearie with the Dolly and tailor it to her personality and that is one less thing for Randy to deal with. These productions of Dolly usually entail short rehearsal periods in regional theater. With such a big show, having such a tight schedule, Randy just wants to get it right.
 He doesn’t stop until that is achieved. They don’t get to the dress run through and he says, “Well, there it is.” He is running around, and tip toeing on stage, and discretely giving notes, and utilizing breaks through tech rehearsals. He is continually tweaking it till the very last minute because he so wants it to be as good as possible. This is not I Do! I Do! South Pacific is a big show, but choreographically there are only three numbers that involves any type of what might be intricate steps.
Hello, Dolly is important to Randy for various reasons. Number One, it was his first Broadway show. It was a spectacular way to make a Broadway debut. There will never be anything to top entering on the top of the horse cart with Carol Channing that first night and the audience standing up ad cheering and losing their minds. Add to that Carol’s entrance in the title number. Nothing will ever top that, other than closing night when the audience lost their minds even more. The opening night was equally exciting. At the after party, Lee Roy stopped the band and read the New York Times review that had the headline, “Celebrate her.” 
It was the best way in the world to make a Broadway review. The second reason the show is so important to Randy is that the show is so positive. A lot of people are used to the “IDEA” of the show of Hello, Dolly! They just think of it as “that musical.” THAT musical has the most fantastic wonderful message. The older Randy gets, the more moved he is by it. It is that message of not letting life pass us by. Whether one feels that they are in a dead end job or in a rut or they feel like they’ve been doing the same thing every day, or they feel
like they are not doing what they desire to do, whatever it is, Dolly’s message and everything that happens to Cornelius and Barnaby and Irene, everything is saying, “Don’t let life pass you by. Don’t let life be in control. Get out there and live.”
When Randy did the show in Houston with Leslie Uggams, his dear friend Ron Kellum was playing Ambrose Kemper. Leslie Uggams sang Love, Look in My Window (written for Ethel Merman but cut until she did the show) which went into the Ephraim speech and then into Before the Parade Passes By and it laid Randy out. It just killed him. Randy was watching the run through and Ron came up to Randy who had tears welling up in his eyes, and Ron said, “You just have to stop crying.” Randy STILL gets so moved by this show, the honest and sincerity of the show and that message. As of this writing, Randy is 49 and will be 50 this summer. He feels that the older he gets, the more important that message seems. He feels that everyone is in control of their own destiny and one can CHOOSE to lay back and let life pass them by. One may not be aware that they are making those choices but they do have the choice to get up and try. It has become very important to Randy and every time he revisits the show, he talks about that to the dancers. 
There is a story to every step. It is more about acting the steps than dancing them. There is a point to all of this.  When Dolly enters in the title song, she makes contact with every single person in that line on a very individual basis. Carol never “didn’t” make eye contact with Randy in that number. The same was true for EVERYONE in that number. Randy was “Danny” in that number. “Well, hello, Manny, You’re looking swell, Danny. You’re still growing. You’re still crowing. You’re still going strong.” She made that connection EVERY time. When she did the Broadway Gypsy of the Year two years ago, she was told to look at someone but she reverted back to looking at Randy because that was what she had been used to. Fifteen years later, she was still making that connection with Randy.
Michael Caprio,Olivia Newton-John,John Easterling, and Randy (Source Randy)
Randy tells his dancers to find that personal connection with Dolly. Perhaps she introduced them to their wives or she would come into the kitchen and start a food fight with them. She made life fun. That is why they love her. It is a wonderful message. Sometimes, when a musical has been around as long as Dolly has, it sometimes gets taken for granted. Everyone doesn’t but some people do. Its longevity proves that it is a great musical.

Going back to when Lee Roy said to Randy that as long as they have the intent and the style, it is OK to try new things. Randy has taken that philosophy into other shows he choreographs as well. In addition to Hello, Dolly, Randy choreographs a lot of productions of Chicago. He never makes it EXACTLY what he did on Broadway. Ann Reinking sets each production on the dancers in front of her and that becomes THAT production. Randy has done four different productions of Chicago for Ann. None of them were the same. There were some ideas that carry forth the same theme but everyone brings their own style to it. Taking that also to Dolly, what Randy has also learned from Ann, he takes that idea to any show he does. I Can Do That does not have to be done exactly the same way in every production of A Chorus Line. Donna McKechnie told Randy that there is no reason why Mike Costa should do I Can Do That exactly like Wayne Cilento does it. It has been expressed by Donna McKechnie, Lee Roy Reams,  and Ann Reinking, three of Broadway’s best dancers. It doesn’t matter if they start out on the left or the right foot. There are some dancers who go on to be choreographers and they try to set it in stone EXACTLY as it was done before. It is not about which foot to start out on, it is about the intent behind it. Lee Roy never needs Randy to start out on a certain foot. What he wants is the intent and the style. That whole message, working as a choreographer, is what Randy has taken to other shows. There is no right or wrong. Get the style and intent and see what can be created from there.
The life lessons of Hello, Dolly, again, are what touches Randy Slovacek. It is the lesson of not letting life pass him by. To wake up his late fifties or sixties to see that life had passed him by will not happen to him. He is aware of every day because of Hello, Dolly! He makes his own destiny. Like Cornelius and Dolly, he is out there making it happen. He has chosen not to let the Parade pass him by. 

Thank you Randy Slovacek 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!



And Don’t Let the Parade Pass You By! Reserve TODAY for Christine Toy Johnson in Hello, Dolly! TONIGHT IN NYC! with The National Asian Artists Project
Photo credit: Bruce Johnson


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


NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!





When it comes to the history of Jerry Herman’s brilliant production, beyond the 5000+ performances of my own, even I turn to Richard Skipper when I have questions about the remarkable ladies who followed me in the role that the world fell in love with over 50 years ago.”-Carol Channing

              
My next blog will be...My exclusive interview with Director David Armstrong on Hello, Dolly! (He directed Mimi Hines AND Jenifer Lewis as Dolly)


Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!


  



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!

               





3 comments:

  1. Wow! What a wonderful tribute!! Well written and moving!!

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  2. This is awesome! Fannnnntttasssstiiiccc!

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  3. Richard, Randy and I did that production together, his first time, and he mentions that the cast was a family. Our company was touched by a simple sweetness and sincerity that has held strong even after all these years. Randy was a major part of that sweet sincerity and I'm proud to say we are still great friends. Bravo on another great interview to you both! Monica

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