When the musical Hello, Dolly! premiered in 1964, it came at a time when Americans desperately needed an escape from all the darkness in the world, including the Vietnam War and assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Now, more than 50 years later, with worsening international relations, impeachment trials and viruses dominating the news, that escape is needed once again.
In order to bring some happiness to the local community, Pennsbury High School is presenting the Tony Award-winning Broadway classic on Feb. 7-9 on the PHS East campus.
Hello, Dolly! tells the story of Dolly Levi Gallagher, a socialite-turned matchmaker, played by senior Eva Crosson, and her latest client seeking assistance, the “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (senior Dan Howarth) and a young artist named Ambrose (Wesley Carty), who is in love with Horace’s niece, Ermengarde (Carissa Salzano).
Dolly’s scheming soon involves Horace’s employees, Cornelius Hackl (senior Nic Fallacaro) and Barnaby Tucker (Connor Harkiewicz), as well as a New York hatmaker Irene Molloy (Kathryn Gilbride) and her assistant Minnie Fay (Robyn Kerachsky), as she tries to cover up her own secret romantic designs.
Auditions for Hello, Dolly! took place the week before Thanksgiving, with the production quickly coming together over the past several months. On the heels of opening night, The Times stopped by one of the final rehearsals, where the cast, led by director Matthew South, was ironing out last-minute details.
South, an ‘06 alum of PHS and general music teacher for Pennsbury middle schoolers, said he’s thrilled to bring Hello, Dolly! to the stage.
“It’s funny, it’s heart-warming,” he said. “How funny in this climate now that Hello, Dolly! is very much needed? It’s touring the area, and we’re doing it. It’s just a night, to quote Judy Garland, who has nothing to do with this, ‘to forget your troubles and come on get happy.’”
According to South, Hello, Dolly! was chosen based on an alternating system.
“We do a three-year rotation so that they [students] get an experience in everything,” he said. “We choose the show based on the kids that we have, and we have a rotation of styles. So, they get a very early, almost operatic style. We’ve done Gilbert and Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance. We do a classic Broadway like Hello, Dolly! and then we do a more modern, contemporary, Disney-esque big show.”
Despite initial groans from students when Hello, Dolly! was announced, South explained how the teens embraced the musical. This was especially true after the theater group was awarded a Pennsbury Arts Foundation Grant, which was used to welcome Kate Baldwin, who starred in Hello, Dolly! in 2017.
“She came in and did a whole day of workshops with the kids who were the leads and then with the cast and since then, that was about two and a half weeks ago, they’ve just had this complete turnaround and can see the joy and the fun in everything,” South said. “They always want to do Rent, Les Miserables, Hamilton. But they get into it, and they’ve gotten into it and they love it.”
Crosson, who is portraying Dolly, was excited to land the title role.
“I’ve done musicals forever. I’ve done musicals since ninth grade here. It was really awesome, the journey, because I was always ensemble and I love playing ensemble,” she said. “But it was awesome to finally get the lead in my senior year.”
As far as playing Dolly, Crosson described the character as “a lot.”
“She doesn’t stop talking,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s one of the best experiences ever. It’s a lot to learn from. Everybody’s part is so important, everybody plays a really big role, and it’s just something I really love to do.”
The best part? Crosson gets to tote around a larger-than-life, Mary Poppins-esque bag.
“I’m a matchmaker, and so I have all my cards in here that I’m giving out to people,” she said. “I just have random objects in here, too. I take out a painting at one point. It’s very interesting.”
Fellow senior Fallacaro’s portrayal of Cornelius follows four years appearing in high school shows, including Pirates of Penzance, Shrek the Musical and Footloose, in which he played Ren McCormack.
“I really love the show. It’s based on the play The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder, which is a farce, so there’s a lot of older humor,” Fallacaro said. “It really is like a puzzle, and the whole show fits together in a way you might not see at first. I really enjoy it. I like singing, I like dancing, so being on stage has been a lot of fun.”
The production features a score by Tony Award-winner Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. It opened on Broadway in 1964 starring Carol Channing, and has been revived four times, with Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters most recently taking their turns as Dolly.
Hello, Dolly! will be presented in the Pennsbury High School East auditorium, located at 705 Hood Blvd., Fairless Hills, on Friday, Feb. 7 and Saturday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 9, at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased on Tuesday, Feb. 4, and Wednesday, Feb. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the PHS East auditorium lobby. All tickets are assigned seating, with prices ranging from $20 for Orchestra Level, $15 for Lower Balcony and $10 for Upper Balcony. Discounts are available for military personnel and Pennsbury Gold Card holders. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org