Hello, Dolly! Debuts Saturday at Arts United Center
Whether it’s the original Broadway run with Carol Channing or the more recent revival with Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly has charmed audiences for almost 60 years. To capture the musical and the bigger-than-life character of Dolly Gallagher Levi, Fort Wayne Civic Theatre has brought in a rather bigger-than-life director in her own right. Leslie Beauchamp, who has earned raves for her directorial efforts over the years (including the much-lauded Sweeney Todd, also at the Civic), picks her moments around her many other duties, and with Hello, Dolly she has found a musical which she appreciates for both its content and its context.
“The show is really a call to action,” Beauchamp said. “It was put on at a time with the JFK assassination, and Vietnam was on the horizon. There were a lot of changes going on with rock ‘n roll, and during it all, Hello, Dolly is an old-fashioned musical that just wraps us up in a blanket. At the same time, it has a message about not letting society rule you or put constraints on you, like ‘You can’t be a widow and want to live again.’ It’s set in the 1890s and encourages people to break out of the roles that were expected in the Victorian era. These characters have had successful marriages and are widowed but want to get back out there. There was a belief that if you’ve already had that marriage, you’re not supposed to expect it again. But this show says you should live your life the way you want.”
Beauchamp thinks the current revival of the musical speaks to the parallels between its Broadway debut in 1963 and the current production in 2023.
“The show came along at a time of upheaval, during uncertain times when people were ready for the nostalgia of an old-fashioned musical. The fact that it’s being done again now, with the recent revival on Broadway and a successful one at that, it comes during a time of more upheaval, similarly uncertain times. And it brings such a universal message that always feels timely.”
The cast features Amy Ross in the title role. Ross appeared (albeit in a different role) in a 1980s production of the show at Fort Wayne Civic Theatre and now gets to work with her daughter Olivia who also stars in the current production. It’s a family affair for Beauchamp as well, with her husband Brad and daughter Emma appearing in the production. The strength of the cast and their performances became clear one day when Beauchamp entered the building for rehearsal.
Amy Ross as Dolly Gallagher Levi
“I had entered through the Green Room and was checking out the sets, and I heard the music from the show. At first I thought ‘Oh, they’re listening to the Broadway cast recording then realized ‘No, that’s us! We sound great!’ Rehearsals are just an embarrassment of riches with the artists and actors who are contributing to this show. They all work all day at their ‘real jobs,’ and they still come in here everyday not because they have to but because they get to. I love the collaborative atmosphere, and these actors inspire each other and me everyday.”
With a cast of 32, all of whom do have “real jobs” and lives to juggle, rehearsals can be challenging, but Beauchamp knows it will all be worth it when the show opens to audiences this weekend.
“I can’t wait for the audiences to come in,” she said. “Every show is different which is what’s so great about live theatre. Each performance is new, and you never know what’s going to happen. Every audience is different, and I love that part of it. Each show you get to see what that audience loves, what that night’s particular audience is going to find funny or enjoy. That different personality of the audience changes the show. It’s just something special that happens with live theatre.”
Visit artstix.org for tickets and showtimes.