Thursday, April 4, 2013

Robert Lydiard: Eight Productions of Hello, Dolly as Barnaby Tucker!



Robert Lydiard

Robert Lydiard has had a career since the 1960s in professional stage, screen, television, ETC.
Robert played Charlie Brown in the original Off Broadway  production of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.
He also costarred in 20th Century Fox's The Paper Chase and dubbed for director Federico Fellini in Rome as the voice over lead in his Amarcord; and for director Mike Nichols in The Day of the Dolphin (voice of Dolphins in 5 languages !) All three of those films were Academy Award winners. TV credits include Law and Order,Guiding Light, Criminal Intent, Kate and Allie,. Robert is also a professional whistler, barber, and  a vocal sound effects expert. Robert is still in the business of show. He does commercials and he is auditioning all of the time.
Currently, he is a member of a Web Series; The Shorts Show!

For his entire adult life, he has done almost nothing else. This is the career that he was handmade for. It began when he was in graduate school in Detroit at Wayne State University working on getting his Masters to teach acting and speech. That was the goal.
An opportunity came knocking in the way of a show called You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which was a big hit off-Broadway in New York starring Gary Burghoff as Charlie Brown.
A friend of Robert’s was doing the costumes and she told Robert that he should really get to New York and audition. There were open auditions every Friday at four PM.
After the Christmas break and before returning to University, Robert came to New York and auditioned and one thing led to another. He was called in for a final audition and got the show and that was that.     

As for Hello, Dolly!, Robert did eight separate productions. As he says, he was seventeen forever. As a result of his youthful appearance and zeal, he had the opportunity to work with some wonderful women, with whom he maintained strong relationships for YEARS, women like Arthur Godfrey's Marion Marlowe, famed Broadway understudy-Betty O'Neill, Annie Russell, and  Vivian Blaine, everybody knew her from Guys and Dolls - - with a litany of Directors featuring Annie's and his friend, Hollywood legend - John Bowab! John was the chief director for most of those tours.
John is is well known in Hollywood. He was also the director of The Cosby Show. That was filmed in Astoria, New York. Years later, John would have Robert out for wonderful lunches one day while filming there. That was icing on the cake. To this day, they still see each other from time to time. Robert lives in New York and John lives on the West Coast.

Robert got his first production of Hello, Dolly like most actors get a job, he auditioned. This was in the early to mid seventies.  He was physically right for Barnaby Tucker. His voice was fine for the show. They were looking for someone with a Broadway caliber and/or temperament because that was what Betty O’Neill was used to. Betty and Robert hit it off right away and they were off and running.

There are very few actors who have done as many different productions of Dolly as Robert. With that, as stated above, came wonderful friendships.    
Anne Russell and John are still very close. Robert remained friends with almost all of the Dollys. They were all individual ladies with individual temperaments.
Two come to mind, whom he won’t mention, who were not traditional “Dolly” types at all, but they were hired because they were known to be commodities and stars and those       
kind of words. They were not exuberant and full of energy Dollys. They brought an extremely soft maternal side to Dolly which he had not seen since he did the first one. Most don’t think of Dolly as being a motherly type.
She is more of  “Come on, Get out here and dance! I want to get you married!” The exuberant Dolly is what most audiences are used to. These “other” Dollys that Robert is referring to were lovely but soft spoken. With them, it totally made sense when Dolly said to Ephraim, “Ephraim, I’m tired.” That's a nice approach, but to have that all through the show ? One might think it would not work, but it does because it is that well written, Robert thinks.

He was a Dolly veteran when the '77 tour starring Carol Channing and Eddie Bracken was announced.
He went to the audition and Lucia Victor, the director, approached him and thanked him for coming in to audition.

It was a sweet gesture and then she was gone. He had no idea who was sitting out in the house watching him as he auditioned. In those days, actors had the luxury of auditioning in theaters!
The producers were scattered out in the house. He had no
idea that Carol Channing and Charles Lowe were also in the house observing EVERYTHING!
Robert auditioned and Lucia came up after his audition and said that Carol and Charles both loved him and he was offered the part on the spot.

Robert had auditioned for Lucia before and she knew him and his work very well. She also knew that Barnaby is THE role that could easily run away with the show. He was asked not to improve upon the role in any way whatsoever.He assured Lucia that he would follow her direction and give Carol what she needed and was used to with the production.
He had worked with some Dollys that needed him to improve upon the role and those who did not. 
Carol loved Robert then and from that point on for adhering to that. Lee Roy Reams says that whoever plays Barnaby can ultimately become the whipping post of the production. Robert agrees. He knew what he needed to do to get the laughs in terms of setting up Carol better. There were some who needed more than that. 
Vivian Blaine as Dolly
Robert will not mention who they are. Some of them are no longer with us. They needed that extra boost of comedy to set up their scenes and/or their next line or whatever. Robert knew by the time of Carol's revival knew where to make it better for everyone, for Carol, and for him, and even for Vandergelder at times.

Robert never  did wander outside of the framework of what Carol and Lucia desired.
      
They toured all over the states (at under a thousand per week) till the  spring of '77 when they opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The tour was also Robert’s first honeymoon. He got married the week after they began rehearsals and took his then bride, now his former, on the road with them as their honeymoon. She was not in the business, but she was theatrical.
Friends meeting her thought she was in the business because of her theatricality.
Eddie Bracken
Eddie Bracken and his wife just loved her.So did Carol.In fact, Carol gave her a dress that she had once worn to an opening. She desired Robert’s bride to have it; she couldn’t believe that Carol would do something like that and was very flattered by that.
The tour continued a little under a year and a half before going to Broadway.  
Dolly opened on Broadway on March 5, 1978 and closed July 9, 1978, playing the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (147 performances).

When Robert toured in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, they toured on to Hawaii.
That would have been a nice highlight if the Dolly tour had gone to Hawaii, as well.
 Robert enjoyed the traveling. It was exciting and they stayed in nice hotels.
However, the real highlight of this tour and the subsequent Broadway run for Robert was working with Carol Channing and Eddie Bracken.
When Robert met Eddie, they bonded as father and son right away.

Robert learned so much from Eddie as a person, a man, a performer, and a great deal of restraint both on and off stage.

That is one of the necessary things one has to learn in playing Barnaby.
Robert and Carol (Courtesy: Robert Lydiard)

Eddie would give Robert advice just as any father would.
He advised Robert in what stocks to buy and how to manage his financial affairs and basic human requirements like how to take care of his money, his life, his business and career. Eddie Bracken became a surrogate father to Robert.
Eddie Bracken had several sides to him, always with energy.



Eddie brought an unfathomable energy to his role. He could be irascible but it was done with such excitement that Robert just had to hold his hand over his mouth so that he didn’t laugh out loud, even in rehearsals.
 He was just naturally funny. He would do it different ways until he arrived at the one that worked best with Carol and she liked it.
He was the best. Meeting Eddie Bracken is at the top of Robert’s list of positives. He was the father that Robert had missed for so many years; his had died much earlier.
Eddie was a very generous man with his presence and his love, he was very nurturing.There was one occasion when one of the girls in the show had a relationship end by her  boyfriend. He was back in New York and that often happens when a part of a couple is out on the road.
She was so upset. They were on the bus and the way to the theater and Bracken crossed over the aisle and sat next to her and took her in his arms and just cuddled her as a father would.
It brought tears to Robert’s eyes. Robert has never met anyone quite like him.
The director, Lucia Victor, worked close with Carol and Eddie on their scenes together and Robert could see Eddie trying out new things all the time, from things that he had done before; he brought EVERYTHING that he was working on to the table.
It was a matter of choices, choosing the best for the show, for him, and for Carol, and putting it all together and making a wonderful characterization that he developed.Carol and Eddie’s relationship off stage was fine as soon as they got into the show. The first few months were a little tough because Carol kept finding bits that he was doing that she wanted to take out. She wanted to hone the show a bit better which was fine.
It drove Eddie a little crazy, however. It seemed like every single week there was another set of notes.
Lucia said to the company after they were finished with rehearsals and were into the first week or two “OK, things are set.” Carol, however, always wanted a nip and tuck here and there to hone things in.  The tour started at the Houston Grand Opera. They were also co-producers.

Even though she had played Dolly so many times prior to this production, Carol was still developing and rediscovering new things about Dolly.
Robert says, "Carol is a wonderful, positive clown. She had boundless energy. She had  the greatest set of 'highs and lows'.
In other words, she goes from smiley faces to frowning faces and from high pitched sounds to low basso profondo in her delivery."
It was all for the betterment of the show and the character. There is nothing Robert can think of to say about that that is negative.

She was so in love with the character and the show. It is HER heart that was totally the character and the show.

Lucia Victor was wonderful. She brought a quiet dignity to the show. She approached the show as a history making endeavor for all involved. They were all thankful to Carol for agreeing to do it again. In fact, it was Carol’s and Charles’ impetus to bring it back.

Robert was very grateful to them for doing it. Neither Gower Champion or David Merrick was associated with this production.

Jerry Herman was the artistic director and supervisor of this production.
It was his baby, artistically. He was there frequently. Jerry and Robert became “first name basis” buddies.
He could not have been sweeter.
 Robert’s wife Megan said the same thing. MANY years later, Robert was working at the concessions to make ends meet.
Jerry walked in and Robert said, “Sir, can I sell you a program?” Jerry responded by saying, Bobbie Lydiard, why didn’t you say hello?”

Robert didn’t think Jerry would really remember him. Robert knew his place in the business and did his job always in the business. At this point, he was selling merchandise, for the time being while he was cooling his heels.

He didn’t want to embarrass Jerry.

As it turned out, Jerry remembered Robert very well and reminded him that he was in his book. Jerry Herman mentioned that he thought this some critics thought this cast was better than the original. That cast consisted of Lee Roy Reams, Robert, Florence Lacy, and Alix Korey.

It truly was one of the best supporting teams that Carol ever had in Hello, Dolly! 

Charles Lowe was a little more over the top than Carol was, actually. Robert and Charles had a good relationship and Robert didn’t have any problem with him. Pat Tolson, the production stage manager, was the spokesman for Charles.

Robert wondered why Tolson didn’t have more of a stage manager command.

Carol Channing and Charles Lowe
Tolson was really under the thumb of Charles. Whatever Charles wanted or decided for he and Carol, Tolson would come in and create the right environment for the notes sessions.

Robert is not sure when those decisions were made, Tolson would say, “This comes from the higher ups and you don’t need to ask who.” Robert never had a problem with that. He only once had a problem that had the potential of becoming a real problem.
They had been on the tour a year or so and were gearing up, finally, for Broadway..
At this point, they were in Denver, Colorado, the last stop before Broadway.
Robert was pretty much doing the show by rote at this point, the same show every night. His performance had really gotten settled within itself and the show.
Robert was also a “commercial person”. He was always getting cast in commercials.

In different cities, he would hook up with the local agents. Just before leaving Denver, he landed a series of four commercials and was needed to stay an extra day and a half to film.
He begged and he pleaded to stay an extra day or two and that didn’t please the higher ups of Dolly very much.

He forgets what excuse he made but they allowed him to do it.
He stayed a couple of days, went to Broadway, and had one run through before opening with the cast.
Everybody was pleased, it went fine, but they were worried. He had been out of the loop for a day or two.

The end of the tour in Denver also led to more drama. It had to do with the hat shop scene. Vandergelder is leaning over the table yelling at Mrs. Molloy.
Minnie Fay and Carol/Dolly are also in the scene. Lee Roy Reams, as Cornelius, is hiding in the closet. Vandergelder slams his cane on the table and it makes a big crack sound. Barnaby comes up in the front of the table visible to the audience, but not seen by the players on stage. 
He shudders because of the intense sound that Vandergelder’s cane has made and he goes down, little by little, shaking.


The curtain falls down around the table and he is gone.

It got a nice laugh and applause broke out. He didn’t look forward to that but he did try to replicate that as best he could from that point forward.  
He was asked to tone it down. His spotlight was also cut. 
One thing that was Legendary Carol and has been mentioned by many is the fact that Carol would rent movie theaters to show films to the Company that had not yet been released to the general public. They would have private viewings. In addition, from time to time the entire Company would be treated to special meals and events. These were things that Carol and Charles arranged with everyone. It created a wonderful attitude among the Company.
  
Robert thinks the core of Hello, Dolly is about aging and aging gracefully. The show is deeply rooted in relationships.
Robert LIVED Barnaby Tucker for a huge chunk of his life. This, of course, was after playing Charlie Brown in New York and on the road.
Charlie Brown was more saccharine sweet, but there were lessons to be learned from both characters. 

Hopefully, any actor can learn from whatever show they are doing. It is a universal thing. One must learn from everything they do. Robert certainly did with Dolly. He was in a company of twenty-five to thirty people. In a situation like that, one learns about relationships; learning what not to do is oftentimes more important than learning what to do. Robert has carried those tenets forward his entire life and has been very
successful with it.
 As far as his approach to Barnaby, as remedial as this sounds, a lot of it is right there in the lines. Barnaby is a cute little feisty guy who is a bit of a nebbish, finds humor in everything; those aspects of Barnaby live inside of Robert and always have. He approached Barnaby from his own life experiences. It is so beautifully written by Michael Stewart and Thornton Wilder. Robert went back and read the original Matchmaker text.

When they were doing this production, Carol was in her late fifties.
Robert doesn’t think there should be an age limit for an actress playing Dolly Levi.
It depends upon the energy and the vitality of the actress playing Dolly and what she brings to it. Robert and Megan hope to play Horace and Dolly together some day. Megan is not nearly as old as Carol was when they both did it with her.
                                                                                                                                                                                        
Chris Lenz (Beggar) and Robert Lydiard in The Flute Player's Song. Historic Gateway Playhouse.
Photo byby Christopher Lenz
Megan is younger but she has already done the show once or twice and is very much looking forward to them doing it together.
That would be a nice teaming.Robert’s time with Dolly was totally positive with no negatives.The whole cast felt that. Hello, Dolly is a show that is explained to audiences early on and so the audiences know where Dolly, for instance, is
Original 1964 Company
coming from, having lost Ephraim Levi. The audience knows that she is a woman who arranges things and so the audience is right with her in the first number and they get the gist of what is going on and then they meet the various characters as the show unfolds in the first scenes and they understand that part of it. Then the audience watches as they grow and it is very universally appealing.

Hello, Dolly is something that speaks to all people and they are completely uplifted by it. Robert knows the entire cast was. From time to time, he runs into Dolly cast members in New York. All of them mention how much that time means to them and how uplifted their lives have been ever since. There have not been days again like those. 
Those were the days! They all just bloomed and blossomed for it. It carried a demanding energy. Everyone had to put so much into it. They all did and it was a wonderful show. It was one of those universally appealing shows. It had all kinds of messages for all kinds of people.Robert would love to see Megan play Dolly in a Broadway revival!
Looking back on his career, Robert CAN imagine a resume that doesn’t include Hello, Dolly, because his career has taken such different roads over the years. He started out by taking over the role of Charlie Brown from Gary Burghoff. That was a great thrill. Then, Robert, in addition to other theater jobs, did three Academy Award winning films in a row!  
The Day of the Dolphin was a big one. The Day of the Dolphin is a 1973 American science-fiction thriller film directed by Mike Nichols and starring George C. Scott.
He filmed Dolphins in Rome, Paris, and Munich. He did the voices of the dolphins in five languages all over the world. He then co-starred in The Paper Chase. He flew back to Rome a year after Dolphins to work with Federico Fellini in his Academy Amarcord (1974), a series of comedic and nostalgic vignettes set in a 1930s Italian coastal town. It really is about Fellini’s early life. Robert did the English dubbing of the lead of the film. Even when Robert was doing it, he knew it was big. He also took the time to enjoy and see Rome. He had a favorite cafĂ© that he visited every morning. He expected, when he first met Fellini, to be “odd”.  He expected to see him in a big Panama hat, a Hawaiian shirt, and Bermuda shorts. No, he appeared in a three piece un-buttoned suit with his tie askew and messy hair.
He could not have been nicer.
Courtesy Robert Lydiard

Robert never "visited" Dolly again after the show closed on Broadway July 9, 1978.  Charles Lowe approached Robert and told him that they were taking Dolly back out on the road after it closed on Broadway.
 He asked Robert to continue. Robert said that he would love to and that he was interested, but he did need a little more compensation and that he was only asking for an increase in his per diem to be brought up to what was the Broadway standard. This was for travel. Charles absolutely refused. He said to Robert, “Well, Carol’s not taking a raise.”  At that time, Carol was getting an enormous salary plus ten percent or twenty percent of the gross!!!

They desired him to continue at the same salary.
Robert was asking for an additional forty-five dollars a week. They refused.
Robert’s closing night came and he could not stop crying. Tears were constantly streaming down his face. He realized that that was a part of his history that was going “bye bye”.
The next day he was back auditioning for commercials.

His commercial career really blossomed throughout the seventies and eighties. He was working like crazy and is very thankful for that. It set up the whole rest of his life. He did a few more films along the way as well. Nothing ever reached the level that Hello, Dolly did, according to Robert. That was the zenith in many ways. The films were great, The commercials were terrific. He was a spokes person for various products. He loved all of it. As of this writing, he is still working in the business, and he is on a web series currently filming.
It is a Saturday Night Live type of sketch comedy show. He is the resident character actor taking on various roles.            

Robert’s wife, Megan Thomas, was in the last leg of the revival tour that Carol did in '94.
Carol went on the road for three months after the Broadway folded.  
That was the Company that Megan was part of.
 Hello, Dolly was the zenith of Robert Lydiard’s theatrical career. So many things contribute to that
accolade. They were all positive. There really was never a negative. Everything was lovely. When Megan Thomas did  the show, there was a yacht party. Carol rented that yacht. Robert flew down to meet them on the West Coast of Florida. They were in Naples. Robert came on board. Carol split everyone so that Robert could enter.
She yelled his name at the top of her lungs and they embraced. Nothing could have been  sweeter than that. It was a touchy feely moment that still brings tears to his eyes just to think of that.


Thank you Robert Lydiard for the gifts you have given to the world and 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!



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 Cousin Tuny as Dolly Levi!





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



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

Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            
 
This Blog is dedicated to ALL THE DOLLYS and ANYONE who has EVER had a connection with ANY of them on ANY Level!





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