By Dan Guarino
Like its title character, “Hello, Dolly” at the Rockaway Theatre Company is brighter and bigger than life and filled with personality and heart. From the minute the curtain goes up, there is a flurry of motion and music as a full company of actors, singers and dancers swiftly fill the stage and reach out to every seat in the house.
“Dolly” opens on Friday, July 14, and runs through Sunday, July 30, at the RTC Post Theater at Fort Tilden, Breezy Point. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. Already, all performances have sold out, but standby seats may be available.
Director Susan Corning, herself an RTC veteran, notes, “Well, of course, my favorite character is Dolly Levi, who is a matchmaker determined to make her own personal match. The very first musical I was ever involved in was ‘Hello, Dolly’ when I was in high school. So I have always been in love with this Americana musical.”
In it, Dolly travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for cantankerous “well-known half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. She also secretly convinces his niece, Ermengarde, her intended fiancé, struggling painter Ambrose Kemper, and Vandergelder’s two put-upon clerks, Barnaby Tucker, and Cornelius Hackl, to travel for what turns out to be an eventful romp in 1890’s New York City.
The show includes such stunning numbers as the opener “Call On Dolly,” a rousing “It Takes A Woman,” the touching, heartfelt “Ribbons Down My Back” and “It Only Takes A Moment” and, of course, “Hello, Dolly.”
“The story of ‘Hello Dolly’ is based on the play ‘The Matchmaker’ written by Thorton Wilder,” Corning says. “The film version starred one of my all-time favorite performers, Barbara Streisand.” While the film also featured the likes of Walter Matthau, Louis Armstrong and a pre-“Phantom of the Opera” Michael Crawford, on stage, in revivals and around the world, the role of Dolly has been filled by such talents as Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Leslie Uggams, Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman and Bette Midler.
RTC’s production stars Luisa Boyaggi as Dolly, with Michael Whelan, Ricky LaLuz Rivera, Nick Galimi, Joanna Connolly Pepe, Shannon Connolly, Georgie Raiola, Alannah Fabry, Cassaundra Reed, Fern Zagor, and a full ensemble.
They have all been working very hard to make this show a standout, rehearsing for almost three months to get every bit of dialogue, song, and dance just right. The show includes some 31 cast members, a production/stage crew of 20 and about 15 musicians in the show’s live stage band.
From the costumers often hand-tailoring elaborate hats, stunning dresses and suits, to the set designers, builders and painters, this has been an all-hands production. Much of it has also been kept under wraps, without even photos being allowed to be posted, to save the thrill of its colorful surprise reveals for the audience alone. Assistant Director Mia Melchiorri says, we “want people to leave the theater saying, ‘Wow! How did they do that?’”
She explains, “We wanted to capture the heart of the show and the great musical that has been loved by so many before.” There would be certain aspects of the show which “would be criminal to change,” she says, “but there is so much creative freedom in finding those moments and tailoring them to our cast. The musical is grandiose and magnificent, and we really hope to capture that.” She adds, “Our set design team, costume team, lighting/sound teams, props etc. are truly such major components of bringing the ‘razzle dazzle’ to this show and we couldn’t do it without them.”
Meanwhile Musical Director Jeff Arzberg has used the power of “Hello, Dolly’s” voices, from individual stars to its full cast, to create a powerful musical presence. Even from the very first rehearsal all were stunned by the combined force of these players’ vocal performance.
Along with the music, story and acting, the heart of this production is its dance numbers, which carry the audience away and nearly burst off the stage. First time Choreographer Erech Holder-Hetmeyer remarks, “It feels amazing to be a part of such an amazing show and watch my vision come to life. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Along with Assistant Choreographer Ricky LaLuz Rivera, he says, “The look and feel I’m going for, for this show is a cartoon-like feel, high energy, symmetry and most importantly storytelling that is timed to the music. My favorite number is definitely ‘Dancing.’ It’s just pure dancing and storytelling and it’s so fun to watch. I’m in awe of the talent of the cast every time I watch it. Another favorite is ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes,’ because it’s just a visually stunning number that we all worked very hard on.”
Collectively Corning, Holder-Hetmeyer and Melchiorri cannot say enough about their cast. “This is a dream cast! They come to every rehearsal prepared to work, have fun, and make something very special,” says Corning.
Melchiorri agrees. “This cast is stellar. We are so fortunate to have a great mix of RTC veterans, newbies, and everyone in between. We’re becoming such a little family, and everyone has been working so hard to create our ‘Hello, Dolly’!”
“I couldn’t ask for a more talented group of performers to work with,” Holder-Hetmeyer adds. “This show has been a labor of love by everyone on the production team and in the cast.”
He adds, “I’m hoping people will see an amazing show filled with some of the best talent out there. I want the audience to leave the theatre having watched a show we have all poured our hearts and soul into making the best possible that it can be!”
Summing up, beyond experiencing “a visually stunning show,” Melchiorri hopes audiences “will be transported into the story,” and “walk away truly understanding the meaning of ‘Hello, Dolly’ and all of the wonderful emotions it encompasses!”
Like Dolly Levi herself, this show will leave an impression.
The Post Theatre Is located in Fort Tilden. Although tickets are sold out, there may be cancellations. Check out the ticket link at: www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org or arrive an hour before showtime for standby tickets.
Photos by Dan Guarino.