Saturday, April 6, 2013

Megan Thomas on Hello, Dolly!



Megan Thomas grew up in an acting family. Both her father and her grandfather were actors. Her father’s side of the family was Welsh. They could all sing and they appreciated the arts and theater. Her grandfather was actually a factory worker, but he always sang and he always acted. After he retired, he did do some professional theater. 

Her father had a Masters in history and geography. In 1964, the year Hello, Dolly opened on Broadway, Megan’s mother, who was also a teacher persuaded Megan’s father to go and audition for shows in New York and he got cast in Carousel starring Howard Keel. 
He never went back to teaching again. He had a rather successful career as a “working-class blue collar actor.” He was an Equity actor for the rest of his life. Megan grew up around actors and the theater. She guesses that is why she ended up in the theater.
She never did have this driving urge to be a “STAR”. She did, however, desire to be part of the acting community. She loved actors. She loved backstage. She loved the way actors treated one another. That was the life she desired.
Interestingly enough, Megan's’s father also did Hello, Dolly. He appeared with Betsy Palmer and Max Showalter at The Papermill Playhouse. He was in the ensemble and played the Judge. That production also did a summer stock tour throughout New England. Megan never saw Carol as Dolly until she was doing it with her.
Megan did meet her, but Megan was a very young girl at the time. Megan does remember a party that Betsy threw at her home in Englewood. It was a barbeque for the cast and crew and was very exciting.

One thing that Megan is thrilled about is that SHE has played Dolly. Megan got to play Dolly, herself, in a small company called Clear Space Productions in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. 
She hopes to have another opportunity to do it again. Robert Lydiard, Megan’s husband, and she almost had a chance to do it this past year, but their schedules just didn’t allow for it. They had gotten an opportunity to go to London to conduct a master class and it would have conflicted with that. They are both hoping that opportunity will present itself again.     

Megan was part of Carol Channing's LAST tour. Megan was not part of the Broadway production. She came in and did the latter part of the tour AFTER the Broadway run.
This was 1995. This was a three month bus and truck tour. Megan was one of the “twins” and was in the
The ORIGINAL Dolly with David Merrick
ensemble. Lee Roy, who directed, took over from Michael DeVries as Cornelius Hackl. Lee Roy knew about Megan because she had been to previous chorus calls for the show. Lee Roy saved her picture and resume and she got called in when they needed soprano replacements.

Many who were part of that production felt the Broadway run closed prematurely. Several that had been part of the tour and Broadway run did not continue. Megan was thrilled for the opportunity to join this last stint and hurrah. She replaced someone who was pregnant, Kim Montgomery. They became very good friends and Megan went in quickly to replace her. Megan ended up going in quicker than they expected because Jennifer Joan's father had gotten very ill and she had to leave the company. Megan jumped in before her rehearsal period was officially over. She was a little shot out of a cannon, but it was fine.
She went in so excited to not only be in the show with Carol Channing, but the fact that her husband had appeared in the last (77) revival. She loved Lee Roy Reams and was excited to finally get the opportunity to work with him, not only as director and fellow actor, but her husband had worked with him, as well.
Megan’s husband, Bob Lydiard, was thrilled to death at the fact that his wife would get to experience what he had experienced thirteen years prior.
It was an exciting time for them to know that they would both be
Original Promo for 1964 Company
part of this rich legacy. Megan had a wonderful working relationship with Carol. She has huge respect for her. It was a professional relationship, but Megan does feel that she had a relationship with her that transcended that. Megan had a lot of fun with her and moments that she will cherish for the rest of her life. The few months that Megan spent on the road with Carol are among the highlights of her career, even though she has done mostly roles in her career. Even though she was an ensemble player in Dolly, it was one of the highlights of her career to spend that time with her and watch her work.
Megan considers her a genius. She knows how to control an audience. To watch her control an audience was amazing and her consistency was as equally amazing.
Megan feels that the casting for this tour was very good for the following reasons. Carol was much older. Although, Lee Roy was older than Cornelius’ age, he understood the role very well. Megan thinks that Cornelius could be almost any age. He certainly should not be young.
1964 Company (with David Burns)
She also doesn’t feel that there should be an age limit on Dolly…at least not when it comes to Carol! One of Megan’s treasured memories of that tour was the very last performance. She will remember this the rest of her life. Nobody talked about this ahead of time and said, “Let’s do this.” Everybody did it without discussing it. When it came time for the Dolly number, everyone who was not in that number ran into the wings or the orchestra pit or anywhere to see it, this also included every single person backstage connected with the show, to watch her and the guys do that number, because they all KNEW that this was probably the very last time she would be doing this number in a full production of the show. She might do it on some awards show with dancers or she might do it at some gala, but this was probably it. This was in Austin, Texas, according to Lee Roy Reams. Megan will never say never when it comes to Carol Channing. If she found out tomorrow that Carol was going out on the road again in Hello, Dolly, it would not surprise her. The thing about Carol Channing is that she just might do it!        
Rehearsal Shots from 1964 Company
Hello, Dolly is a universal show that is appealing to almost everyone because it really is about finding love at almost any age, and finding life, and not sitting back and being happy with where one is. One has to find LIFE. Megan’s only regret was that she was not in the Broadway portion of this tour. She also wishes she could have done it longer. Some people in the company had been doing it for a while, but for Megan, it was just a few months. When she signed the contract, it was for that amount of time.
Sadly around this same time, Charles Lowe got very ill. Charles was in the hospital towards the end of this run. The stories are legendary about Charles sitting third row center and leading the applause and laughter. Sometimes, it was not always productive, because he would sometimes laugh at the jokes before they landed. It would put audience members around him off. The joke would happen and those audience members would hear raucous laughter before the audience would start to laugh. The people around him would not laugh because they were not sure what was going on. When he went in the hospital, Carol went on that night and Megan could tell it was very hard for her. Her eyes were well up with tears.
Megan believes that Carol and Charles really did love each other. Their relationship was based on “other things” that other people’s relationships are not based on. 
Charles Lowe
Charles Lowe made her a star. To be honest, Megan doesn’t know that if Carol had been left to her own devices that she would have become the star that the world knows today. Who knows? Maybe she would have been a different kind of star. Charles Lowe made the Carol Channing that we all know. 
Carol had a “routine” that she did for every single performance. This began from the moment Megan went into the company. Once again, she was one of the twins. They were dressed in yellow and make their entrance alone with Carol on the horse drawn cart. The first night that she was going on, her “twin” said to her, “Hurry up, Megan! We have something to do every performance, twice on matinee days.” Megan asked what it was as her “twin” told her to follow her lead. Carol would already be on the back of the cart as Tiv Davenport, her hair dresser and make-up guy, was doing little touch ups on her before the show started. It was hard for him because she was always fidgeting around like a nervous child and not sitting still, driving him crazy, as she would always do. The twins would run to jump on the horse cart. This was before the overture would even begin. As they would get onto the cart, they would stand in the wings and say in unison, “Good
Recording Cast Album of Hello, Dolly 1964
Morning, Mama!”, and she would whip around and say, “Good Morning my little chickens! Now hurry and get into your nest! Now, hurry”. THEN, they could get up into the cart. They HAD to do this EVERY performance. One day, Megan was there and an understudy was doing the other twin’s part. Megan couldn’t find her anywhere. Megan got into the cart and didn’t say anything. The overture started and is playing and the other twin is not there. She is getting more and more nervous and she is thinking, “Oh my God, we haven’t said it.” All of a sudden, the understudy comes running in just in time for her entrance. It is almost time for the curtain to go up and for the cart to go out. The girl runs into place and says, “Oh my God, I forgot.” Megan whispers to her, “Don’t worry about it.” Carol whips around and says “Say it! Say it!” They said, “Good Morning, Mama!” and she said, “Oh Good! Now, it will be a good show.” They had to say it. It was routine. She didn’t even care if the mic was on. It had to be said. One time she even held up an imaginary worm for them to eat.

George Burns, Carol, Walter Matthau
Another interesting thing about Megan is that she makes G-strings! She makes funny G-strings that have something to do with people’s costumes. She made G-strings for all the women in the entire company, actresses, tech, everyone. Of course, she made one for Carol also. It was red with red fringe and a black velvet ribbon and a diamond for “Diamonds are A Girl’s Best Friend.” Megan didn’t give it directly to her. She gave it to Tiv to give to her.
 A couple of days later, they were having their mic check in the next town.
She only had about five outfits that she wore. She had her wig cap on, her traditional make-up, with her watermelon pink triangle cheeks, and her brown on the nose. She always wore three mics in case one went out for back-up. She was wearing her big white farmer jeans and her white combat boots for her mic check. All of a sudden, the mic check is over and she whips around and she says, “Megan! That little red thing”, she never called it a G-string, “that little red thing is wonderful!”, and she starts wiggling her finger in front of her crotch, “that little red thing is wonderful! How did you know my size?”

Megan said, “I just guessed.” She keeps wiggling her finger and she says, “That fringe is so inviting!”

Robert Kennedy visits Dolly during her original run

Megan doesn’t feel that she can put her finger on any one particular thing, but she does feel that watching Carol and learning from Carol was really a big thing for her because Carol was so professional and so consistent on stage that Megan had huge admiration for that. She missed one performance right before Megan joined the company. It was one of the VERY RARE times that Carol missed a performance. Monica Wemitt went on for her. 
Circa 1965
They were literally sewing Monica into her costumes because they did not have costumes ready for Monica. They did not expect that Carol would ever miss a performance. She ended up in the hospital with pneumonia.
When Carol returned after being in the hospital, she was still really sick and her voice was horrible, but she went on anyway. She knew people were coming to see HER. In the middle of the hat shop scene, she was croaking through the scene. In the middle of the scene, she looked out at the audience and said, “I know you’re having a wonderful time because I know I sound like Kiri Te Kanawa.” The way she said it, it must have taken her thirty seconds to say that name. She loved words and how she could wrap her unique sound around them. Lee Roy was also suffering through that show. It was working its way through the company.
Original cast album recording session
Carol was a total pro and expected no less from everyone in the company. This anecdote takes place in the same theater in which the seventies TV star came to see the show. The stage hands were just misbehaving. They were talking and laughing and were being loud and obnoxious. Carol was doing the opening number and it was very distracting. Those on stage could hear them talking. 
Carol was sitting next to the twins on the horse cart. Throughout the scene, she would walk downstage doing her asides to the audience. The chorus would sing another chorus of Call on Dolly, as she would run back up and get back on the cart. After one of the vignette scenes in which she would talk to Ernestina or someone, she would turn her back to the audience and run up stage. This particular time, she turned her back on the audience and ran upstage. The sound guy knew that the second that she would stop talking, they would turn her mics off instantly, thank goodness! She turned her back to the audience and as soon as she took a few steps up, she heard them talking in the wings. She stopped dead in her tracks and she lunged to the right and in the biggest deepest baritone voice anyone ever heard, she    
Charles Nelson Reilly and Carol, 1964
said, “SHUT UP!!!!!” Megan had to keep singing Call on Dolly and took everything she could muster to get through it without bursting into laughter. The audience was never aware of this. She had had it.
Hello, Dolly has certainly been an uplifting show and a positive show as far as all of that goes. For audiences around the world, along with shows like Oklahoma! and West Side Story, it represents real American musical theater, real slices of Americana, of who we are as Americans. Even though it was just for a few months, Megan was thrilled to be part of it. They got to meet Jerry Herman when they were out in Palm Desert. He had the company come out for lunch.
Hello, Dolly holds a very tender place in Megan Thomas’ heart, not just because it is a wonderful slice of Americana and a wonderful American show, but because Megan’s husband, Robert Lydiard, and she got a chance to do the show with Carol Channing. Bob did the first revival and Megan was part of the last revival. It will always hold a very special place in her heart.  

Thank you Megan Thomas for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

Thank you, Robert Lydiard, for arranging this interview! 

 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!



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 Karla Burns (Dolly Levi) at Forum Theater, Wichita, Kansas


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!

 
      





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