Staff at a glitzy New York City restaurant murmured with anticipation for the grand entrance of Dolly Levi, a charismatic matchmaker wearing a fluffy pink dress with gold fingerless gloves, a flat silver hat and a gold glittery sash with a flower around her waist.
As Dolly walked through the restaurant signing “Hello, Dolly!” the staff danced around her and everyone in the establishment drawn to her gleaming presence.
After more than four months of preparation, the Nikiski Middle-High School drama class presents the musical production, Hello, Dolly! opening Friday at 7 p.m. at the Nikiski Auditorium. The show runs Friday and Saturday and the following weekend May 2-3 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults.
“Hello, Dolly!” is a renowned Broadway musical and winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show premiered on Broadway in 1964 and was also made into a film starring Barbara Streisand and Walter Mathieu that was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Director and Nikiski drama teacher Joe Rizzo said he chose the musical with Nikiski senior Hannah Tauriainen in mind because he knew she could handle the lead role of Dolly Levi.
“It is an extremely demanding role with more than 50 percent of the script’s dialogue,” he said. “The songs she sings are complicated and integrate. They change rhythm and one song has three bridges in it. You have to be pretty accomplished and it’s really remarkable when it’s a kid doing it.”
Tauriainen, who has been in the school theatre program for six years, said she was a “little terrified” when she was offered the lead role, but has received great encouragement from Rizzo and choreographer Phil Morin.
“This is the biggest part I have ever had,” she said. “I’m really excited to show everybody.”
When she started preparing for the role at the beginning of the semester, she was also in another play, “Aladdin,” with a theatre troupe in which she played the genie. Juggling two roles proved to be a unique challenge that she relished in.
She said it took her three weeks to memorize her script for “Hello, Dolly!” She described her character as opportunistic, meddling in everyone’s lives.
“Dolly is always in control,” she said. “She manipulates everything and knows how people are going to react to things and she does what she needs to do to illicit certain reactions. She always knows what’s going on and is so empowered and that is important for women.”
Dolly plays matchmaker for widower Horace Vandergelder, a rich proprietor of a Hay and Seed Store from Yonkers, New York. Nikiski senior Richard Vollertsen plays the role of Vandergelder, who he described as a gruff old man set in his ways.
“It is a little tricky trying to be the mean guy but also nice to bring out the funny side,” he said. “The hardest part is getting the accent and old man voice down.”
Dolly sets up Vandergelder with Ms. Money but intends to marry him herself, Vollertsen said.
Tauriainen said her favorite scene, apart from her entrance in the pink dress, is when she sings “So Long, Dearie” to Vollertsen because she gets to stand on the table and make fun of him in song.
While rehearsing Act 2, during a scene when Dolly and Vangergelder dance, Rizzo yelled out from the back, “Let’s see you make it sizzle. I want to feel the romance.”
After the cast rans through the rehearsal, they received notes from Rizzo and Morin with remainders to pay attention to the little details that will make the show run smoothly.
Vollertsen said he is excited for opening night and said this is the perfect play for Tauriainen and him to end on while in the drama program.
“(Tauriainen) nails all the songs while I’m trying to do my best to keep up and match pitch,” he said. “I feel a little nostalgia but I’m very excited for this play. I hope people come out and see it.”
Tauriainen said it is important for the younger cast members who haven’t performed live to know what it feels like to act in front of a full house.
“The audience boosts us,” she said. “It will definitely give kids a lot of encouragement and inspire them.”
The production has 35 cast members from middle school age to seniors, Rizzo said. The upperclassmen in the lead roles have demonstrated strong leadership for the younger ones who will move up in the theatre program, he said.
“My leads have been in this program since seventh grade and we have done a lot of training with them,” he said. “The older kids are training up the next generation.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org