By Jerry Herman & Michael Stewart
Directed by Mark Steven Robinson
3 OSTRANDER AWARD NOMINATIONS
“Bedazzling! The band strikes up the title song and a candied vision in red sequins and feathers struts down a flight of stairs surrounded by adoring waiters. Elitism was never so perfectly embodied. Theatre Memphis' Hello, Dolly! is an impressive season opener . . .”
- The Memphis Commercial-Appeal
“With a large cast and even larger set, this show requires a director who knows exactly what he’s doing. TheatreMemphis found the perfect director in Mark Robinson.”
- Memphis Family & Friends
Photos by Elven Blalock
During the past four decades, Hello, Dolly! has achieved a position as one of the most beloved and enduring shows in American theatre history. Which make it all the more surprising to know that the original 1964 production, which would go on to break box office records, win an unprecedented 10 Tony Awards, a Grammy, make Carol Channing and Jerry Herman household names, and beat out My Fair Lady as Broadway's longevity champ, nearly closed out-of-town before ever making it to the Great White Way! Happily, thanks to the addition of a few new songs, the resourceful ingenuity of director Gower Champion, and Louis Armstrong's 1963 pop recording of the title song (which shot to the top of the Billboard charts and won a Grammy over the Beatle's "A Hard Day's Night"), shrewd producer David Merrick guided the show into New York an unqualified winner - to the world's delight!
I've been in love with this show ever since my folks took our family to the film version back in 1970 (the national tours never made it to my sleepy little beach town of Santa Cruz, California…so the film had to do). I believe - in some way - that as a youngster I was drawn to its screwball characters, frenetic story and glorious music for the same reasons I've gravitated to the show an adult: At its core, Hello, Dolly! is a rousing but heartfelt study of the vulnerability of human nature and the need to love and be loved - no matter your age. That's the essence of The Matchmaker, Thornton Wilder's source material; and Dolly! beautifully encapsulates this theme with a rousing musicality that reminds us of the joy of being alive!
-- Mark Robinson
THE INTERVIEWS BELOW TOOK PLACE FOLLOWING THE MEMPHIS SUMMER STORM OF 2003, WHICH CAUSED ENORMOUS DAMAGE, KILLED SEVEN PEOPLE AND LEFT MUCH OF THE CITY WITHOUT ELECTRICITY FOR WEEKS. IT OCCURRED THE MORNING AFTER THE FIRST REHEARSAL FOR "HELLO, DOLLY!"
Family and Friends
The Magazine of Memphis' LGBT Community
From The Front Row
by Kevin Shaw
Theatre Memphis is set to open its 2003-2004 theatre season with one of the most beloved musicals of all time, Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!
With a large cast, even larger set, and exquisite costuming, the show about a turn-of-the-century matchmaker named Dolly Levi requires a director who knows exactly what he’s doing. Theatre Memphis found the perfect director in Mark Robinson from New York City. Not only is Robinson a talented director, but he also has been a leader in the fight against AIDS for more than 10 years.
Having just arrived in Memphis, Family & Friends spoke with Robinson (while he sat in his ‘powerless’ guest home, due to the Summer Storm of 2003) about his love for Dolly, as well as his AIDS activism.
F&F: Having never spent much time in Memphis, have you been able to get a sense of “Memphis” theatre and what kind of work is being done here?
Robinson: Yes! There’s a lot going on here. There’s also a huge pool of talent for a town this size. I’m really impressed with just how much is going on. Especially in regards to musical theatre.
F&F: I know you’ve performed in Dolly several times before. Are you going to be bringing a “new and improved” vision to this production?
Robinson: I don’t feel that this is a show that needs “reinvisioning.” It’s a solid piece of writing. This is not a show that needs “fixing” of any kind. However, what I am bringing to it is my own sensibilities as a director. I was an actor for many years before I became a director. I’m very much a story-based and objective-based director. I’m not the kind of person who comes in an just stages something. I want to develop the relationships between the characters and the ensemble so that each moment has an element of surprise, and element of discovery so that the audience feels like they’re going on a journey with the actors instead of feeling like they’re just being told a story.
F&F: So, are you pulling out all the stops on this production with the costumes and sets?
Robinson: Oh yes! This is going to be a BIG production. The costumes are going to be spectacular. This is a huge undertaking and we’re using every single resource we can to create that sense of opulence in New York City in the late 1890’s. There was a lot of money going into New York City at that time. There was a boom in commerce. You don’t want to skimp on a show like this. Plus, people expect a certain amount of opulence with Hello, Dolly! It would be untruthful for us to do a “minimalist” production. We want it to be big. The designers are really excited to get their work up there.
F&F: Considering the possibility that there are some people who aren’t familiar with the show, tell them what they may like about your production.
Robinson: Well, it’s a show for everyone. It’s a farce. It’s a door-slamming, laugh-out-loud farce on one level. But on another level, it’s about people who are discovering an opportunity to have a second chance at happiness in life. Almost all of the main characters are at a miserable place in their lives and feeling unfulfilled, lonely. In comes this woman (Dolly Levi) who transforms their lives because she is trying to change her own life. She realizes that there is no reason she shouldn’t have happiness in her own life and goes after it wholeheartedly and thus makes profound changes on the people around her. This is how the show is so endearing and has had such a long life. Plus, it has an incredible score and one of the funniest books ever written for the musical theatre.
F&F: So of all the Dolly’s (Barbra Streisand, Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey), who is your favorite one?
Robinson: I’d have to say our very own Ann Sharp.
F&F: I know you had a lot of women in town that wanted this role. How did you come to choose Ann Sharp?
Robinson: Well, you just can’t help but loving her. She’s completely charming, gracious, and loveable, with a little glint of devil in her eyes. That’s Dolly! Plus, she’s a very strong actress. I wanted to work with someone I could collaborate with on this role and I’m completely confidant we’ll have a great time working together.
F&F: Can you talk a bit about your AIDS activism?
Robinson: Sure. I took a break from the performing industry a couple of years to work on an event out in Los Angeles called the California AIDS Bicycle Ride, which at the time was a very small, grassroots fundraiser. I stayed with that event for three years and was promoted to the ride director for the first two Boston/New York AIDS Rides which became the most lucrative AIDS fundraisers in history. I was really proud and pleased to be able to commit a part of my life to the fight against AIDS. It was one of the great times of my life to be able to see the transformations in people who were undertaking something that they didn’t think they could do and seeing them accomplish something as great as riding a bike for, say 500 miles, and to really do something significant in the fight. It made me a stronger person and ultimately a better stage director.
F&F: Any last words people should know about this production of Hello, Dolly?
Robinson: Be prepared to come and laugh loud and hard at with this show. It’s going to be a great deal of fun!
Acting up a storm
U of M offers staging area for wind-struck troupes
By Christopher Blank
Photo: Matthew Craig
July 25, 2003
It was time to put the phrase "the show must go on" to the test.
When Tuesday's storm knocked out power throughout the Memphis area, it didn't spare local theaters.
On Tuesday night, most community stages had no power. Additionally, Circuit Playhouse - circuits blown - lost a section of its roof, to the tune of around $25,000 in damage. Ewing Children's Theater, a week away from the final summer production, is unusable, with severe structural damage to the building.
Four other theaters went dark, some with productions under way, some in rehearsals. No power and no phones meant box offices couldn't take reservations and the productions already up and running were in danger of closing for this weekend.
With tight rehearsal schedules to keep and an uncertainty about the power, the groups needed a place to set up temporary shop.
The call for aid was answered by Bob Hetherington, director of the department of theater and dance at the University of Memphis.
With school out for the summer, all that electricity was going to waste on empty performance space.
So at 7 p.m. Wednesday, the theater department was trans formed into the Brill Building of Memphis theater, with the biggest convergence of shows-in-progress it has ever seen.
Greeting arriving actors and directors at the front door, Hetherington directed people to their respective rooms. "I call it the theater dormitory," he said gleefully. "I hope you brought your pajamas."
Tuesday night would have been the second rehearsal for this grand old musical opening Sept. 5 at Theatre Memphis.
And for director Mark Robinson, the cancellation revived a bad memory.
"I only remember one other time the second night of rehearsals was canceled," he said. "September 11, 2001. I was working on a show in New York. But later on, the tragedy had the unintended effect of bringing us all together. We did a lot of soul-searching after that, wondering whether what we did mattered. And it did matter, because in hard times, you need escapism, you need levity."
As if to make up for that lost rehearsal and to bring the nine lead actors together, Robinson kicked things off in room 201 with an acting exercise to build a sense of controlled urgency.
As for his reaction to the storm, Robinson had just flown in from New York the day before and had moved into a guest house of a Theatre Memphis benefactor.
"I looked out my window and saw the trees go horizontal and thought, 'Is this typical Memphis weather?' I didn't know."