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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