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Chance encounter brings ‘Hello, Dolly!’ star to Civic stage

Robbi Starnegg as Dolly Levi in Spokane Civic Theaters production of ”Hello, Dolly!” (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Robbi Starnegg as Dolly Levi in Spokane Civic Theaters production of ”Hello, Dolly!” (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Had it not been for a chance encounter in a fabric store, Spokane Civic Theatre’s production of “Hello, Dolly!” would have looked a lot different.

Robbi Starnegg, who stars as Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi, was cutting fabric for Civic costume designer Jan Wanless when the conversation turned to “Hello, Dolly!” auditions.

Starnegg, who moved to Spokane a little more than a year ago, decided to audition.

According to director Troy Nickerson, Starnegg had worked professionally for years and had always wanted to play Dolly.

During her audition, it quickly became apparent that Starnegg was just right for the role of the widowed matchmaker.

“She had a spark that I loved,” Nickerson said. “She moves well, she has a charm and a warmth to her that I really like. She’s a big voice and a great actress. What else do you need?”

Before joining Civic’s production, which opens Friday and runs through June 10, Nickerson’s only experience with the musical was as one of three choreographers on a production of “Hello, Dolly!” nearly a decade ago.

He wasn’t too familiar with the show otherwise but has since enjoyed getting to experience it in a new way and find new elements, mainly the story itself, to love.

“Hello, Dolly!” follows Levi, a sought-after matchmaker tasked with finding a wife for “half-a-millionaire” widow Horace Vandergelder (Thomas Heppler), who Levi herself is pining for, and Ambrose Kemper (Preston Loomer), who has his sights set on Vandergelder’s niece Ermengarde (Marlee Andrews).

“It’s interesting that the three characters are all suffering loss,” Nickerson said, referring to Levi, Vandergelder and the widowed Mrs. Irene Molloy (Heidi Santiago), a milliner who Levi introduces to Vandergelder. “It’s about them joining the human race again and recovering and coming back to life. To still find something in the show like this that has something to say in between all of the incredible production numbers, that’s been fun.”

“Hello, Dolly!,” which features lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, also stars Calen Martin as Cornelius Hackl, Nicholas Griep as Barnaby Tucker, Lorelei Dimmel as Minnie Fay and Jessica Loomer as Ernestina Money.

The ensemble includes Alex Barclay, Teo Damitio, Olivia Davies, Jenner Davis, Jerrod Galles, Cesar Galvan, Leah Hansen, Alyssa Hersey, Robin Hill, Tre’ Keough, Elizabeth Martin, Jessica Martin, Leilani Santiago, Amber Sety, Logan West, Eric Wilson and Mickey Zhang.

Nickerson estimates that he hasn’t worked with 80 percent of the cast in any capacity before, but he’s enjoyed getting to know and work with everyone.

He’s also had fun creating a more modern, simple set for the musical, which he said will help put the story first.

“It’s not simple necessarily compared to other things but for ‘Hello, Dolly!’ it’s rather simple,” he said. “There’s certain things you have to have. It’s a modern edge to it, which I really like.”

In a story similar to Starnegg’s, Nickerson wasn’t originally planning on being part of “Hello, Dolly!”

He signed onto the production after close friend/actor/director Lance Babbitt, who was set to direct this production, died in November.

Nickerson said “Hello, Dolly!” was one of Babbitt’s favorite musicals, and the theater is dedicating its production to him.

“He’s a good guy,” Nickerson said. “He was bigger than life for sure.”


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