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Hello, Dolly! back in town

BY RACHAEL LANDER | JUNE 11, 2009 7:26 AM

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Matchmakers are an elusive breed of meddlesome women, seeking to insert their self-proclaimed superior expertise in love upon unsuspecting strangers. The most notable matchmakers include Yente in Fiddler on the Roof, Emma Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s Emma, and even modern-day love guru Patti Stanger from Bravo TV’s “Millionaire Matchmaker.” However, one memorable busybody can’t be left out of the discerning group — Broadway’s own Dolly Levi from Hello, Dolly!.

The City Circle Acting Company of Coralville will perform Hello, Dolly! tonight through June 14 at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St. The musical, based on the play The Matchmaker, by Thornton Wilder, is directed by Michael Stokes, one of the 15 company founders as well as a former UI student, and the production stars more than 30 local actors. Admission is $21 for adults and $16 for students, seniors, and youth.

For Stokes, directing has been a focus and enjoyment since high school. He, along with the 14 other theater-lovers, launched City Circle and its first show, Nunsense, in July 1998. The show featured Patti McTaggart in the lead role. Coincidentally, McTaggart, also a UI graduate, takes center stage again as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!

“She is one of these actresses [you can believe], and this I think the true test to acting itself — believability,” Stokes said. “You believe every word she says because it’s done honestly and from the heart, whether she’s faking it or not.”

For those unaware of the background, Hello, Dolly! is set in 20th-century New York City and focuses on the character of Dolly Levi, who makes a career out of matchmaking.

“She likes to manipulate peoples’ lives and get them together,” McTaggart said. “If she sees people she thinks would make a good couple, she works them around so they get together.”

Dolly is a widow, and she is finally ready to move on and marry someone new — with dead husband Ephraim’s blessing, of course.

“She has these little monologues where she’s talking to him,” Stokes said. “I tell you, I will be surprised if people don’t tear up through them, they are so touching.”

Like any theater performance, Hello, Dolly! takes copious amounts of time and effort to put together.

“I’m one that starts big, then starts going in,” Stokes said. “Whenever I know I’m going to do something, I kind of think first of the big picture of what you want everything to look like.”

He begins most shows by looking at how he wants the set and costumes to appear, he said. From there, he breaks it down into scenes and works on the details.

“I’m a stickler for saying the lines that are on the paper,” he said (meaning audiences won’t typically find paraphrasing from the original scripts under his direction).

Choreography and dancing are two essential parts of most musicals, and are certainly a large part of Hello, Dolly!. Both Stokes and McTaggart noted the brilliant dance numbers occurring in the musical.

“The choreography is really phenomenal,” McTaggart said. “And the music is done extremely well.”

Acting and directing are both side hobbies for McTaggart and Stokes, and McTaggart attested to dragging a bit on some nights after a long day. However, she credits the chorus and the cast members for keeping up her spirits on nights when she felt worn out.

“The dancers and the singers that are in the chorus in this show keep it together,” she said. “They are just fantastic. A lot of energy comes from the other cast members and the other chorus members of Dolly.”

As for her favorite part of performances, McTaggart loves the simplicity of seeing the crowd smile as the curtain falls.

“I enjoy seeing the very end — I don’t enjoy bows,” she said. “You know you’ve done your best when the audience is smiling. Everyone can clap, but when you’re smiling, that’s natural. That means there’s something they like.”


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