Dolly Levi is back in Coeur d’Alene, and Ellen Travolta couldn’t be more thrilled.
For Travolta, once again assuming the role of the beloved heroine of “Hello, Dolly!” for Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre is like visiting with an old friend.
Actually, this revival of the enduring Broadway hit is like visiting with many old friends, Travolta said. Several of the same people who staged the play 12 years ago are back with Travolta – including director Roger Welch, choreographer Michael Wasileski, musical director Steven Dahlke, co-star Jack Bannon, and actors Callie McKinney Cabe and Krista Kubicek.
Travolta said when the theater started talking about revisiting a past hit to kick off the 45th season, she knew what she wanted to do.
“I said the only show I’d be interested in doing again is ‘Hello, Dolly!’ because I think it’s such a perfect show and I think I’ve had 12 years to improve it,” she said. “Steven Dahlke told me it was a perfect show, in his opinion. I don’t know what his ‘perfection’ thing is, but mine is that it’s a balance of fabulous music and an excellent script, and it’s funny and poignant. It’s just lovely. It’s a good balance of everything.”
Thornton Wilder wrote a farce called “The Merchant of Yonkers,” which had a short-lived Broadway run in 1938. In 1955, he rewrote it as “The Matchmaker,” elevating the minor character of Dolly Levi to the title role. Ruth Gordon played Dolly for 486 performances on Broadway. Nine years later, Jerry Herman turned it into the musical “Hello, Dolly!” with Carol Channing in the lead. It went on to win 10 Tony Awards. Barbra Streisand starred in the 1969 film version directed by Gene Kelly.
Welch said he’s coming back to “Hello, Dolly!” with a new perspective.
“Being 12 years older, I have a better understanding of what this piece is about than I did before: making sure that every day counts and that you really need to embrace life,” he said. “One thing that is really striking me as interesting is that it’s a barometer of how we’ve grown as a company. We have more resources now, and I think we’re really upping our game.”
In 2000, for instance, Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre wasn’t able to bring a train on stage for a key scene, he said. Now they can. They’ve also been able to incorporate more difficult choreography because the quality of the dancers they can bring in is higher.
“I would say that our talent level has gone up,” he said.
Ultimately, the draw of “Hello, Dolly!” is that it’s a great play to spotlight the work of husband and wife Bannon and Travolta.
“Ellen and Jack are absolutely delightful in these parts, and people don’t want to miss that,” Welch said.
Travolta is only partly joking when she quips that she’s been preparing to play Dolly again for 12 years. She and Bannon have been working on the play since January. It’s a contrast to the last time she played Dolly.
“Then I didn’t go in as prepared. That was still in the early years. I was still doing a lot of television, back and forth, back and forth. I had the mentality of ‘learn the page and throw it away. Learn the page and throw it away,’ ” she said “So I approached the play at first as, ‘Well, I’ll look it over. I’ve got two weeks. I’ll be fine.’ No. You really need longer than that.”
Her favorite song, she said, is “Before the Parade Passes By,” as it’s the one she feels most connected to at her age.
“And the ‘Ribbon’ song,” she added. “I don’t sing it. Krista Kubicek sings it. Oh my, she sings it so beautifully.”
This production marks the first time in a decade that she and Bannon – who plays Horace Vandergelder – are sharing significant stage time together in a summer theater production.
“The last play I did with Jack where I was on stage with him and actually having scenes with him was ‘Anything Goes’ in 2002,” she said. “And I love to work with Jack. He’s such as good actor.”
As has become the norm at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, “Hello, Dolly!” will be a bit of a family affair. In addition to Travota and Bannon, the cast includes Travolta’s sister Margaret Travolta in a couple of cameos, and Travolta’s daughter Molly Allen as Ernestina.
But this show is all about Dolly. And Welch said he has the perfect Dolly in Travolta.
“She’s bringing a tremendous amount of humor to the role. She’s cracking me up,” he said. “Her delivery of those lines, it’s like they were written for her. … And she can do this amazing turn from totally cracking you up to making you cry. She’s a lovely actress.
“I think people will really enjoy it.”