Say Hello for The First Time

ECCT puts on the classic matchmaking musical

Lindsey Quinnies, photos by Andrea Paulseth

it’s so nice to have you back where you belong! Robin Michelsen will perform the title role in the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre’s upcoming production of the classic Broadway musical “Hello, Dolly!”
It’s so nice to have you back where you belong! Robin Michelsen will perform
the title role in the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre’s upcoming production of the
classic Broadway musical “Hello, Dolly!”

“Money is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread about, encouraging young things to grow.” This famous line is the concluding thought of one of the main characters in the latest production by the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre.

In the past, the group has performed its own interpretations of numerous classic shows such as Alice in Wonderland, Oliver!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Hairspray. Their upcoming production, the celebrated musical Hello, Dolly! is no exception.

Hello, Dolly! is based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play The Merchant of Yonkers (retitled The Matchmaker in 1955). The musical version – with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart – was produced on Broadway in 1964, eventually earning 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It has since returned to Broadway several times and has been performed on countless stages. Essentially, its success allowed it to become a staple in the theater world and a story that would continue to be referenced and reinterpreted.

ECCT director Wayne Marek says this musical is a favorite that he was first introduced to in high school. Although he has since seen it performed and directed in other places, it has never before been performed by the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre.

The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century and focuses on Dolly Gallagher Levi, played by Robin Michelsen, a meddling matchmaker who seeks out wives for men in the market. Her latest client is Horace Vandergelder (Jason Lynn), a cantankerous “half-a-millionaire,” as Dolly refers to him. However, although it is her task to find Horace a wife, it becomes clear early in the story that Dolly herself intends to marry Horace. When Dolly takes a trip to Yonkers,  N.Y., to visit Horace, others become involved. Horace’s assistants, Cornelius Hackl (Kevin Grady) and Barnaby Tucker (Brian Naumann) and contacts of Dolly’s, Irene Molloy (Vanessa Rossano) and Minnie Fay (Jocelyn Bold), all enter the plot seeking different outcomes for themselves. Other important characters also come into play, including Ernestina (Sara Shellenberger), Ambrose Kemper (Jeremy Richter), and Ermengarde (Ali Abraham). Throughout the story there is sabotage, love, lust, and intertwined relationships that eventually lead to everybody finding some sort of satisfaction, even it is not` what they initially set out to achieve.  

Hello, Dolly! is mostly a fun, feel-good musical comedy about falling in love and finding that love. The play features several large song-and-dance numbers, including songs that will probably sound familiar (including the title tune). “It’s fun working on classical things that everyone knows and finding your own voice within that interpretation,” says Kevin Grady, who plays Cornelius. “I tried out because I have been in theater for a long time, and I had actually never seen the show.”

Marek, the director, acknowledges that “it certainly isn’t the deepest story.” However, he adds, “If you’re not sure if you like musicals, it’s a great introduction to theater and pure entertainment. … It may make you willing to see a musical again sometime.”

Grady adds, “Everybody should see it because it’s such a big part of Broadway history. It’s really fun, and it’s always called back to by other plays. … You can become part of the (theater) community that knows what’s going on with the history.”

Eau Claire Children’s Theatre production of Hello, Dolly! • 7:30pm April  4, 5, and 6, and 1:30pm April 7 • The State Theatre, 316 Eau Claire St. • $8 for youth, $12 for students, $16 for seniors, and $20 for adults • (715) 839-8877 • www.ecct.org.