September 20, 2018

Backstage at Dolly with Jenna Bellamy – Rudolph and Earnestina

We’re nearly half way through the run of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ so I suppose it’s time to do a long post again. I’m writing this stream of consciousness so I have no idea where it’s going to go or how it’s going to turn out. Bear with me and hopefully I will eventually have some profound insight or make an exceptionally witty joke. Or I just might end up with a lot of word salad, you never know.

Tonight’s performance was one of those times when you know the show is clicking along on all eight cylinders and all the moving parts are falling into place. Everyone is comfortable with lines, lyrics, staging and all the little kinks with costumes, props, sets and lights have been worked out. The audience must have all had a few orange things at Bottega before the show as they were roaring by the end of the opening number and their response helped fuel our energy in a super charged exothermic cycle. We probably came as close to hitting it out of the park as we ever can.

I was thinking about Tommy a lot backstage. Dolly would not have been his kind of show. He was always much more about musical drama than musical comedy and he always loved the ones where there’s plenty of angst and some sympathetic character dies before the final curtain. He would have been happy to work on it in a production capacity, would have sat through it dutifully for my performance, and then spent the next two hours while getting ready for bed telling me how much he loathed the collected works of Jerry Herman, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Loewe. I, on the other hand, love both musical comedy and musical drama. There are times when what we need is a show whose major purpose is simply to radiate joy into a world that at times appears to grow darker with each passing day. Tommy’s ultimate goal as an audience member was to go to local theater and see a show filled with actors he knew but to see no one he knew on stage. Are we achieving that? I’m the wrong person to ask but I know I’m losing myself in the cartoon valentine of 1890s New York we’re all creating.

Onstage, singing the title song to Jan Hunter as Dolly

Dolly is the right show for me at the moment. It’s the message. It’s about a woman of a certain age who makes a decision to break out of her rut, created by her personal tragedy, and in doing so changes her life and the lives of all of those around her for the better. The famous title song symbolizes her rebirth into the human race and all its follies. She has decided to live a fool among fools rather than a fool alone. My part in the show is a minor character role but that moment as she comes down the stairs to join me and the waiters is speaking to something deep inside of me and I hope it’s helping me figure out my own path in life. Will I have a staircase moment at some point? Well, Miss Clairol Channing has the red dress and the wig with the feathers so you never know…

Tommy and I went to a lot of theater in New York over the years together. The first show we saw together was the Studio 54 Cabaret, notable for us both getting somewhat squiffy on Southern Comfort Manhattans (we had one of the cabaret tables right up against the stage). The last was the current production of Waitress. I think the show that made the biggest impression on him was the original production of Rent, which we saw together late in the run. As he said afterwards. ‘That was my life on that stage’. He had had a horrific early 20s with trying to survive on odd jobs and little money, battling the HIV epidemic, losing friends, and an unhappy love life. I enjoyed it but I had spent that period in college and med school nose to the grindstone so I hadn’t been as thoroughly affected as he was. I lost friends and fully expected to be gone by age thirty myself but that educational structure had kept me focused and sane. He hadn’t had that.

I hope that Tommy takes some time out from whatever he’s up to in the next life to look in on Dolly and take in a performance and give a sign that he approves. I’ll be waiting like Dolly waits for Ephraim. I just hope it doesn’t involve blue wallpaper.

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