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Monday, June 18, 2018

‘Hello, Dolly’

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Emmett Hook Center to stage classic musical

The path of “Hello, Dolly!” to the Emmett Hook Performing Arts Center at Shreveport’s First United Methodist Church has been a circuitous one.

The plot reportedly originated in an 1835 English play. “A Day Well Spent” was adapted to a farce translated as “He Will Go on a Spree,” or “He’ll Have Himself a Good Time,” and then was adapted into another farce by Thornton Wilder, this one called “The Merchant of Yonkers.”

Thornton’s version flopped, so he reworded and retitled it in 1955, calling it “The Matchmaker.” That was more successful and was turned into a film in 1958.

In 1964, it became a musical on Broadway, produced by David Merrick, featuring music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. This version must have been really improved, because it won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Now, the Emmett Hook Center has asked me to direct this theatre treasure for the local audience. No pressure.

Fortunately, leading the charge will be Seva May in the title role. If you haven’t heard of Seva, you don’t go to local theatre. She’s been everything from a harlot in Chicago to the queen of Argentina to a Mother Superior in Philadelphia. She thinks of Dolly Levi as a plum role for an actress.

“It’s one of those iconic roles that any actress would want to play,” she said. This is her second bite of the Dolly apple. She also appeared in the Centenary College production a few years ago as another character, but said she really learned a lot from the out-of-town actress who was cast as Dolly, like being confident enough to step up and attempt the role. “That’s a challenging role to develop that character. To be a good actress, you’ve got to be willing to accept challenges and stretch yourself.”

Another actor who believes in stretching himself is John Horton. For over 30 years, he’s been a staple of the summer musicals at First Methodist. When asked how he got into the habit of giving up a chunk of his summers to volunteer for the shows, he said, “I love to act. Acting is in my blood. I saw the movie ‘South Pacific,’ and I said, I can do that.”

Rick Stovall will play the grouchy, single, half-amillionaire, Horace Vandergelder. Besides a great set of pipes, Rick brings a staunch resistance to public displays of dancing. He said since high school he’d been out of the community theatre scene. He got reintroduced by the Gil- bert & Sullivan Society when he was cast in “The Fantasticks.” “That role had minimum dancing, too,” he admitted.

When I directed “Sister Act” for Emmett Hook Center, one of the players was a young lady named Kaylee Tinsley. She was a student at Northwood High School, and that was her first play, in which she shared the stage with one of her real-life teachers. After that, she was hooked. She’s headed for Louisiana College this fall to pursue a degree in musical theatre.

“I love doing Emmett Hook shows, and I figured it would be fun before I went off to college and won’t be able to do a show for a while.” Kaylee said her favorite aspect of theatre is being on stage. “Not just the feeling I get myself but being with other people and making a connection with people who have the same interest as you.”

David Brown, who seems to be on a local stage every time a curtain rises, confesses he’s crazy about this show, but for good reason. “It’s a part that I always wanted to play. It was my first show that I was ever a part of in high school. I fell in love with it then – still in love with it. It’s the entire show, but the person that played Cornelius became a good friend, and he passed away early. Every time I go on the stage, I always say a prayer, and I always ask Kevin to be there. To me, it’s something that he did, and I want to do this for him.”

Even though my neck is somewhat on the line to make this show a success, I have some great partners in crime.

Andra Armstrong is my choreographer. She’s a graduate of Centenary College and a former member of both the Escaped Images Dance Company and the Leading Ladies Dance Line. Under the tutelage of Ginger Folmer, she had the opportunity to choreograph a variety of different musical styles and dance disciplines.

What does she find interesting about choreographing? “Every song has its own unique elements. It’s fun to incorporate a lot of different types of dancing into each part of the show. The music is upbeat and exciting. It’s been fun to stage this many people in the show.”

There are over two dozen people in “Dolly,” and Andra has the task of keeping them all headed in the right direction.

Music Director Robert Young is in charge of making sure they sound like songbirds. “One of the challenges for is getting enough male voices. It splits at times to five voices, and then sometimes it splits into eight to nine vocal parts.”

Despite those technical headaches, Robert loves the challenge. “It keeps me young; it keeps me mentally alert. It’s always fresh to work with the new actors and actresses and, hopefully, to help them improve their skills and their talent.”

We’ve been rehearsing since mid-May, and the show opens on July 6. It runs two weekends. On Friday and Saturday nights, the performance begins at 7:30. On each Sunday, we have a matinee which begins at 3. Of course, if you tell all your friends and we sell out quickly, we’ll be adding performances. After all, they did 2,844 performances on Broadway, and I think Shreveport- Bossier City would be a great place to break the record.

Ticket info: www.emmetthookcenter.org or (318) 429-6885.

– Joe Todaro


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