It was the day before Carolee Carmello was to take over the national tour of Hello, Dolly! and be in front of an audience for the first time in the title role. And what was most on her mind? “Don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip,” she says, laughing on the phone from Kansas City where the latest leg of the national tour begins.
She is referring to the famous golden staircase of the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in the musical in which she makes her grand second-act entrance in a tightly corseted, flaming red dress and spectacularly feathered headdress as Dolly Levi, the exasperating matchmaker.
Carmello, a three-time Tony Award nominee, succeeds Betty Buckley for the next year of touring. The production is based on the staging of the recent Broadway revival which starred Bette Midler. The tour will play Hartford’s Bushnell Nov. 12-17. By the way, John Bolton, a frequent Connecticut actor last seen in Hartford Stage’s Anastasia, plays Horace Vandergelder.
Carmello will be joining a special sorority of stars who have taken on the now-iconic role including Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters and even Phyllis Diller. “People come into the show with a certain expectation of the stars who have previously played Dolly, whether it’s Carol [Channing] or Barbra [Streisand, in the film]. They have an iconic persona in their head, so I think that puts a little pressure on me to rise to the occasion and show them maybe a different side of Dolly — or at least to keep that bar high,” she says. “I haven’t had an audience yet, so once I hear a few laughs I’ll feel better.”
And the first time she was dressed in the iconic evening gown? “It was at the fitting,” she says, “and suddenly you feel like a larger-than-life character. I had been working on the role for a few weeks in a rehearsal skirt and with my own street clothes. But once you put on the gown, it changes you and you feel grand and important and you go to another level. When I saw myself in the mirror, I thought, ‘OK, here we go. Wow wow wow, fellas.’ ”
Crying out loud
The title of Molly Smith Metzler’s play Cry It Out is inspired by many pediatricians’ advice that suggests nervous parents should let howling newborn babies cry until they exhaust themselves. The thinking goes that the babies come to understand their screams won’t be appeased and they’ll learn that sometimes you just have to deal with things by yourself.
Just like life.
The same advice could be made for the distressed parents — three moms and a dad — in Metzler’s play that has been receiving dozens of productions around the country, including one this summer at the new Thrown Stone Theatre in Ridgefield. Now the play is receiving another production at Hartford Stage, where Rachel Alderman directs a production running through Nov. 17.
“All four of the characters are crying it out,” says Metzler, who is also writer-producer for the Showtime television series Shameless.
How did parenthood — she is the mom of a 6-year-old daughter — affect her writing?
“It made me write a lot faster,” she laughs. “I used to have months to write and now I have hours. Parenthood made me much more efficient in every way. But the artistic answer is it woke me up as a parent and I discovered I have a lot more to say. When you have a child, you’re really more aware of the world that your child will grow up in. I don’t have an interest in writing a play that doesn’t say anything.”
One of the issues she wants to talk about more is parenthood itself. “There’s an odd perspective in this country that you squirt out a baby and then be back at work six weeks later like nothing’s changed. It’s like your life is just paused and then you go back to it. The reality for dads as well as moms is that is it cracks your life open and changes everything. You’ll never be the same again.”
Time to adapt
Having adapted Moliere’s Don Juan when he was at the Yale School of Drama earlier this decade (he graduated in 2016), Branden Pelsue was ready to give the play another look when director David Kennedy, associate artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, asked him for yet another take on the classic comedy.
“For the Yale production, the idea was to create an adaptation by using contemporary references and anachronisms that might have been like the sort of pastiche of references Moliere’s audience received when it was first done,” says Pelsue, 33, now living in Princeton, New Jersey.
For the Westport theater, his adaptation “is a more streamlined and pretty faithful translation” (and he did the translation himself, knowing French). “There’s very little anachronisms, if at all. It’s more classic. And what makes a play a classic is that it can contain multiple interpretations, and Don Juan is that. It’s been interpreted by psychoanalysts, by existentialists and by Marxists. What’s nice is this second time [translating and adapting it] I have a facility with the play and I really know it backwards and forwards.”
The show will play Westport Country Playhouse Nov. 5-23.
Have you heard …?
… Filmmaker Spike Lee will be appearing at The Bushnell in Hartford Nov. 9. The Academy Award winner will show clips from his films and share stories about his life.
… Sophia Loren will talk about her life and career on Nov. 16 at Ridgefield Playhouse. One of my favorite Academy Award moments was in 1999 when Loren was the presenter for best foreign film and she announced, “Robbberto!!!” waving the Oscar envelope in the air to a joyous Roberto Benigni for Life Is Beautiful. In his acceptance speech he thanked many people, including his parents for giving him “the gift of poverty.” Loren agreed when I recently asked her about his statement. “I’m so grateful for starting small and simple. There’s nothing to do but get bigger and enjoy what is out there. You can’t appreciate what you have if you’ve always had it.”
… Michael Price, the former exec of Goodspeed Musicals for nearly a half-century, will be inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in New York on Nov. 18. Big honor there.
… Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas will return to TheaterWorks Hartford for another go-round of the holiday perennial Christmas on the Rocks. The show plays Dec. 1-23.
… Wethersfield native Matthew Lombardo (Tea at Five, High, Looped) had a recent industry reading in New York of his new play Conversations with Mother that featured Tony Award winner Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone,The Prom) as mom. The work is based on comic and not-so-comic conversations between he and his mother.
… Former Hartford Stage artistic director Michael Wilson will helm a revival of Horton’s Foote’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Young Man from Atlanta which begins previews Nov. 5, opens Nov. 18 and runs through Dec. 8 at off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre. It will star Tony Award winner Kristine Nielsen and Aidan Quinn (CBS’ Elementary). Also cast is Cheshire’s Jon Orsini. Wilson will also direct on Nov. 18 a one-night-only staged reading of The Importance of Being Earnest starring Angela Lansbury as Lady Bracknell to benefit NewYork’s Roundabout Theatre Company.