Eastland Performing Arts ready to say Hello, Dolly!

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak

Eastland Performing Arts Program cast members for "Hello, Dolly!" include, front, kneeling, Mitchell Harper and Zach Alexander; Heather Rudisill, Polina Gokun (in the title role), Julia Buckley, Kristin Yarger; and back, Alex Funk and Matt Stanley. The Jerry Herman musical about an ardent matchmaker who finds her own love, will be presented Feb. 29-March 2 at Reynoldsburg High School. There will also be a benefit reception and performance for the Anita C. Miller Scholarship Fund Feb. 28.

When the Eastland Performing Arts Program stages "Hello, Dolly!" there will be no need for introductions.

Dolly Levi is one of the best-known roles of the musical theatre, and has been played by the grandest ladies of the stage and screen, from Carol Channing and Ethel Merman to Barbra Streisand (in the film version) and Pearl Bailey.

The irrepressible matchmaker is larger than life, but still connects with audiences.

"She’s what every woman wants to be," according to Polina Gokun, playing the role in the production that runs Feb. 28-March 2 at Reynoldsburg High School. "She wants to be in charge."

And her assertiveness "comes from a very good place," the desire to spread joy that she learned from her late husband, Gokun added.

The cast has been researching the historical period of the 1890s in which the play is set, and realizing how difficult it was for a woman to make it on her own, director Doreen Dunn said.

"For women, it was survival of the fittest," Dunn noted.

Luckily, no one is fitter than Dolly. But the matchmaker nearly meets her match when she sets her sights on Horace Vandergelder, a client looking for a wife to tend his home.

"He’s pretty much oblivious to what’s going on," explained Alex Funk,who plays the grumpy owner of a hay and feed store in Yonkers, New York.

While he clashes with Dolly, "that’s what attracts him to her," Funk said. "He wants her, but he doesn’t want to ask her."

"He’s her obstacle," Gokun added.

Dolly tries to keep Horace away from millinery shop owner Irene Molloy, his prospective mate, by pairing her with Cornelius Hackl.

"We meet by accident" while Cornelius is hiding from his boss, Horace, "and we fall in love," offered Zach Alexander.

At first, Mrs. Molly, a widow, just wants to flirt, then it becomes serious, said Heather Rudisill.

Dolly also draws into her orbit other lovers.

"They’re a younger, more giggly couple," observed Kristin Yarger, of her character, Minnie, and her beau, Barnaby, played by Matt Stanley. "When they do fall in love, it’s more like puppy love."

Dolly directs this coterie to the Harmonia Gardens, where she is enthusiastically greeted with the title number. Complications ensue, ending up with a trip to night court and an ultimatum for Horace, voiced in the song "So Long, Dearie."

"It’s my final offer," said Gokun, who agrees with Funk that it is their favorite number in the show. "It’s the one last straw."

The show is loaded with showstoppers, including "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" and "Before the Parade Passes By."

A runway constructed for the show will bring the players and the pageantry of the Gay Nineties even closer to the audience.

"It’s not very deep. It’s a fun show to watch," Stanley said.

The show is based on Thornton Wilder’s "The Matchmaker," an update of his earlier, unsuccessful play "The Merchant of Yonkers."

The tale was inspired by English and Austrian plays, with themes that are traced all the way back to the Roman Plautus.

In the hands of composer Jerry Herman, it became a blockbuster, running for 2,844 performances and earning Tonys for best musical, as well as for the score and book by Michael Stewart, who also wrote "Bye Bye Birdie."

The role of Dolly was originally conceived for Ethel Merman, who turned it down. Carol Channing turned it into her  signature role. The original cast included  Charles Nelson Reilly as Cornelius and Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Molly.

Louis Armstrong’s recording of the title song reached number one on the charts, knocking the Beatles out of the top spot.

Dolly never goes away, and the role has been played by Merman, Ginger Rogers, Mary Martin (in a London production) and Pearl Bailey (in an all-black staging), among many others.

"It’s the American musical," Gokun said.

The Eastland Peforming Arts Program’s production of "Hello Dolly" will be presented Feb. 29 and march 1 at 8 p.m., and March 2 at 3 p.m. at Reynoldsburg High School, 6699 E. Livingston Ave. Tickets are $9 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for students.

A benefit performance for the Anita C. Miller Scholarship, named for the late Reynoldsburg and Eastland board member who helped establish the program, will be held Feb. 28, with a reception at 7 p.m. and the performance at 8. Tickets for the benefit are $12, with all proceeds going to the scholarship for students pursuing a career in theatre.
For information, call 501-4071.

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