On Stage: ‘Hello, Dolly’ at Candlelight Theater

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

With the brutal winter weather that has descended upon the region, indoor activities – for most people – are the preferred choice.

A great indoor activity is attending a live theater show. Fortunately, there are three attractive options this weekend – “Hello Dolly!” at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre, “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” at the Academy of Music and “SMALL” at People’s Light.

Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) kicks off the 2024 season with this musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s play, “The Matchmaker.” This comic and romantic story of the exploits of Dolly Gallagher-Levi, a matchmaker and “woman who arranges things,” will run from January 20-February 25.

It seems that everybody is familiar with “Hello Dolly!” in one form or another – especially the Academy Award-winning film and the hit Broadway musical.

It’s hard not to be familiar with the song, “Hello Dolly!”– at least with the tune’s opening lines… “I said hello, Dolly; Well, hello, Dolly; It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.”

The cast at Candlelight features Rebecca Schall as Dolly Gallagher Levi, Johnny Fernandez as Horace Vandergelder, Jared Calhoun as Cornelius Hackl, Neena Boyle as Irene Molloy and Shawn Weaver as Barnaby Tucker.

“Hello Dolly!” tells the story of widow Dolly Gallagher Levi, a strongminded matchmaker who arrives in New York to “help” Horace Vandergelder, a curmudgeonly and very wealthy widowed shop owner, find a new wife — while secretly plotting to marry him herself.
Meanwhile, two of Vandergelder’s comedically enriched employees leave the shop abandoned and head out to the city in an effort to find adventure. Often referred to as “Broadway’s Greatest Musical”, “Hello, Dolly!” features sweeping dance numbers, hilarious missteps, endearing chaos and, of course, love.
“Hello, Dolly!” is a 1964 musical with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. It is based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce, “The Merchant of Yonkers,” which Wilder revised and retitled “The Matchmaker” in 1955.

“Hello, Dolly!” debuted at  the Fisher Theater in Detroit in 1963 and moved to Broadway in 1964, where it won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The 10 Tony haul set a record which stood for 37 years.

The show album “Hello, Dolly! An Original Cast Recording” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. The album reached Number One on the Billboard album chart on June 6, 1964, and was replaced the next week by Louis Armstrong’s album “Hello, Dolly!” Armstrong was also featured in the film version of the show, performing a small part of the song “Hello, Dolly!”

The show has become one of the most enduring musical theater hits, with four Broadway revivals and international success.

“Hello Dolly!” became one of the most iconic Broadway shows of the latter half of the 1960s, running for 2,844 performances, and was the longest-running musical in Broadway history for a time.

Over the years, “Hello Dolly!” has featured many of Broadway’s top leading ladies, including Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Pearl Bailey, Tovah Feldshuh, Bette Midler and Betty Buckley.

Schall, however, feels no pressure to compare her portrayal to those who have gone before her.

“Actually, I had never seen ‘Hello Dolly!’ onstage or as a movie but I was familiar with many of the songs,” said Schall, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from Arden.

“One of the first concerts I went to was with my mother and we went to see Barbra Streisand in Washington, D.C. My mother has always loved Streisand.”

Now, Schall is singing songs that became Streisand standards.

“Auditions were in late August,” said Schall. “After I got the role, I did refer back to Bette Midler. With Dolly, I like to build the character on my own.

“Jody Anderson, the director, told me to watch it to get a sense of the pacing. It really is a fast-paced show. I wanted to develop the role and build it with the director.”

Schall, who is a Candlelight veteran, has performed in many shows at the comfortable dinner theater just over the state line in Arden including “White Christmas” (Betty Haynes), “Sweet Charity” (Ursula), “Guys and Dolls” (Miss Adelaide), “Lend Me a Tenor” (Maria Merelli), “Gypsy” (Louise), and “Phantom” (Christine Daaé).

“This show is my 10th show at Candlelight,” said Schall, who grew up in the D.C. area (Gaithersburg, Maryland) and graduated from Philly’s University of the Arts with a degree in musical theater. “My first was ‘Gypsy’ in 2008.”

One of her Candlelight highlights was a two-person show about travelling in a space capsule.

The full title was “The Candlelight Theatre presents a Light Street Pictures Production ‘Dull Space — A Journey to the Very Fringe of Human Endurance,’ starring Dan Healy and Rebecca Schall — written and directed by Brian McCole.

The first time the show was presented was at the Philly Fringe Festival in September 2019 and it had the same cast.

Healy plays the role of Dale Darnon and Schall plays the role of Gráinne Geary, a polyglot and professional translator for the EU.

“The characters evolved,” said McCole. “I did a reading of the screenplay in 2012 at The Rock School West in West Chester. The next step now is making it into a motion picture.”

Schall said, “We’ll be making the film this spring. Brian has built the set, and we’ll film it at his studio in Conshohocken.”

For now, Schall’s focus is on bringing “Hello Dolly!” to life at the Candlelight.

“If anything, we’re still focused on the stage version rather than the film version,” said Schall, whose television credits include “Boardwalk Empire,” “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “In Case of Emergency,” “Julie and Julia,” and “Petuna.”

“There definitely is a difference between stage and film.”

Audiences love the character Dolly, and Schall offers her take on why.

“Dolly is happy, exuberant and effusive,” said Schall. “She knows what she wants, and she goes for it. She’s a bundle of energy – and a good person.

“I bring a sense of quirkiness to the role. I agree one thousand per cent with her passion for helping others – for helping other people get better.

“One reason audiences love the show is the music. They know all the songs. The music is unbelievable – and the script is very well-written. This show is fun. It’s just a beautiful show.”

“Hello Dolly!” is running now through February 25 at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre.

Tickets, which include dinner, beverage and free parking, are $70.50 for adults and $35 for children (ages 4-12).

Ensemble Arts Philly and The Shubert Organization are hosting the first national tour of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” for the first time in Philadelphia. The Broadway smash hit musical will play at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, ensembleartsphilly.org) now through January 21 as part of the 2023-24 Broadway series.

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations

Featuring Grammy®-winning songs and Tony®-winning moves, “Ain’t Too Proud” is the electrifying new musical that follows The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The musical received 12 Tony nominations and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography at the 73rd Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on June 10, 2019.

With their signature dance moves and unmistakable harmonies, they rose to the top of the charts, creating an amazing 42 Top Ten Hits – with 14 reaching #1 – and being voted the greatest R&B group of all time by Billboard Magazine in 2017.

The rest is history — how they met, the groundbreaking heights they hit, and how personal and political conflicts threatened to tear the group apart as the United States fell into civil unrest. This thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty, and betrayal is set to the beat of the group’s treasured hits, including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and so many more.

The Temptations released a series of successful singles and albums with Motown Records during the 1960s to early 1970s. The group’s work with producer Norman Whitfield, beginning with the Top 10 hit single “Cloud Nine” in October 1968, pioneered psychedelic soul, and was significant in the evolution of R&B and soul music. The band members are known for their choreography, distinct harmonies, and dress style. Having sold tens of millions of albums, the Temptations are among the most successful groups in popular music.

Featuring five male vocalists and dancers (save for brief periods with fewer or more members), the group formed in 1960 in Detroit under the name the Elgins. The founding members came from two rival Detroit vocal groups: Otis Williams, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, and Melvin Franklin of Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Primes. In 1964, Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, who was the lead vocalist on a number of the group’s biggest hits, including “My Girl” (1964), “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (1966), and “I Wish It Would Rain” (1967).

Ruffin was replaced in 1968 by Dennis Edwards, with whom the group continued to record hit records such as “Cloud Nine” (1968), “I Can’t Get Next to You” (1969), and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” (1970). The group’s lineup has changed frequently since the departures of Kendricks and Paul Williams from the act in 1971. Later members of the group have included singers such as Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, and Ali-Ollie Woodson, with whom the group scored a late-period hit in 1984 with “Treat Her Like a Lady” and in 1987 with the theme song for the children’s movement program “Kids in Motion.”

The group’s popularity is ever-increasing, and they are one of the most iconic, bestselling brands in the entertainment world today. In 1989, The Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

While the group has evolved over the years, Dr. Otis Williams has continued to lead the group and carry the torch forward for the next generation of Temptations’ fans. Williams, the sole surviving, original member of The Temptations, turned 80 on October 30, 2021.

Stepping into the role of Otis Williams in the musical will be original first national tour cast member, Michael Andreaus, and joining the tour from the Original Broadway Company is E. Clayton Cornelious as Paul Williams. They join the current Classic Temptations Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks, Harrell Holmes Jr. as Melvin Franklin, and Elijah Ahmad Lewis as David Ruffin.

This was a mic drop moment in Williams’ iconic career. It was The Temptations’ first #1 million copy chart hit. “My Girl” would become the group’s magnum opus, and it was inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2018 it was entered into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.

Dr. Otis Williams and The Temptations are still lighting up concert stages around the world. The Temptations embarked on a national concert tour in 2022 that crisscrossed the U.S. They also headlined concerts in fall 2022 in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Williams and the current Temptations lineup will perform locally twice in spring 2024 – May 4 at the American Music Theater in Lancaster and May 9 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

Video link for “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” – https://youtu.be/cdrUhqleHxI.

“Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations” will run now through January 21 at the Academy of Music.

Ticket prices start at $27.

Ensemble Arts Philly is the new presenting brand from the Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Cultural Campus.

This new brand represents a wide variety of genres including Broadway, comedy, theater, jazz, dance, and family presentations across three venues: the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the Academy of Music, and the Miller Theater. Also, Ensemble Arts Philly will represent the multi-genre audience engagement and educational activity that happens outside of its venues.

Upcoming Ensemble Arts Philly presentations include The Philadelphia Orchestra performing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue from January 18-20 in Verizon Hall, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia’s “Bach’s Orchestral Suites” at the  Perelman Theater,

OBSESSED Presents “The Bald and the Beautiful” on January 19 at the Miller Theater, Vir Das: Mind Fool Tour on January 20 at the Miller Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis on January 21 at Verizon Hall, and Philadelphia Speakers Series Presents Marie Yovanovitch on January 22 at Verizon Hall.

“SMALL,” which just opened at People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, www.peopleslight.org), is a one-man show that look at this man’s life from playground to paddock, from playhouse to publishing…to People’s Light.

“SMALL” is written and performed by stage, film, and television star Robert Montano (“Cats” on Broadway, “Barcelona” at People’s Light).

Bullied for his size, a boy from Long Island finds purpose and respect atop a racehorse in this wild autobiographical ride,

As the young jockey starts to literally outgrow his childhood dream, he resorts to more and more extreme measures to remain “small” before ultimately finding freedom in a new path. From Belmont Park to Broadway stages, Montano’s vivid and highly entertaining coming-of-age story explores the complex realities of pursuing a dream at all costs.

Montano tells his coming-of-age story about Bobby, a teen from Long Island who enjoys musical theatre but becomes fascinated by the world of horse racing and aspires to be a jockey.

“It’s a one-man play – and a very physical play,” said Montano, during a phone interview from the theater in Malvern.

“As a jockey, there is movement with me riding — along with an amazing sound design that Brian Ronan and I brought together.

Ronan, the show’s sound engineer, supplies the nearby racehorse whinnying. I’m portraying 24 different characters – all with different voices.

“We started working here on the 18th (December 18). I went home and came back on the 27th. We were supposed to start again on the 28th but Gloria, my mother, was ill. I didn’t return again until five days ago.

“She passed away two days ago. I perform her character in the show. It’s different. I decided to keep going with the show. I know she wouldn’t want me to postpone it. Gloria would have said – don’t you dare.”

The story starts with a young Montano.

When only entering his teenage years, Montano, known to his family as Bobby, fell in love with “West Side Story” and, in particular, with the character of Bernardo. He was stopped in his youthful ambition by his size. Just over five feet, he had retreated into timidity as a response to being regularly picked on at school.

Behind his father’s back, his mother took him to Belmont Park.

“We went to church together one Sunday and then went over to Belmont Park,” said Montano, who was born in Bayside, Queens, and raised in Hempstead, LI. “I fell in love with the place and the horses.”

Montano started regularly going to Belmont Raceway with his neighbors who work there.

“I had a newspaper delivery route with the L.I. Press,” said Montaro. “At one of the houses, I talked to the people about the mulch they were using. They said it wasn’t mulch – that I was probably smelling the horse manure from the car’s tires.”

His newspaper customers were Bob and Sue Duncan, who were major figures at Belmont Park.

“I begged them to take me with them to the track,” said Montano.

At Belmont Park, Montano was confronted by jockeys, especially by Robert A. Pineda. Impressed at the powerful Pineda presence, Montano switched from wanting to grow to wanting to remain small so he could pursue a career as a jockey.

Montano became determined to become a jockey. Eventually, Pineda became his mentor.

“My mom sold jewelry to Robert Pineda,” said Montano. “He took me under his wing and taught me how to ride.”

Unfortunately, his dreams of remaining a jockey blew up. Montano continued to grow physically – from 5-foot, 4-inches to 5-8 and 110 pounds.

The day before riding Sow & Reap in a major race, Montano weighed in at 116 pounds. He had to shed 12 pounds overnight. What he had to do to accomplish is a main part of the plot.

“I did all kinds of things to keep my weight down – black beauties, coke, flipping food on daily basis,” said Montano.

By the time he was 18, Montano had outgrown his silks.

“When I couldn’t make it as a jockey, it was ‘small’ because I’m not,” said Montano. “When I couldn’t ride anymore, I didn’t have anything to do with my life.

“I had to transfer disciples from jockey to dance. I knew I had to work – and I had to work hard.”

Montano had dancing skills he developed when he was young, so he decided to delve further into dance. He applied to Adelphi University’s dance department at age 20 without any prior training. He was accepted and offered a full scholarship.

“When I applied to Adelphi, I had never taken a dance class in my life,” said Montano. “I had to choreograph a four-minute piece. They liked it and gave me a scholarship.

“One week before graduating, I got a role in ‘Cats.’ On Broadway, had the role of Pouncival and was the understudy for Mr. Mistofelees. I did that for four-and-one-half years.”

His career was successful from the start, and he worked with great directors and choreographers such as Hal Prince, Rob Marshall, and Jerome Robbins. He has also worked with Chita Rivera in “Kiss of The Spiderwoman, sang and danced with Peter Allen in “Legs Diamond,” and starred as Ozzie in “On The Town” (directed by the legendary George C. Wolfe).

Montano’s creativity now spans genres. The multitasker ventured into plays, film, and television.
In television, he guest starred in Showtime’s “City On A Hill,” “Bull,” “Prodigal Son,” “Blue Bloods,” “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Elementary,” “Search Party,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Sex In The City,” “CSI: Miami, Law & Order,” and HBO’s film “Undefeated” (directed by John Leguizamo).

His film credits include “Shame” with Michael Fassbender, playing opposite Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix in “The Yards” and partnering with Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago.” Other notable works include “Hustling,” “The Strike,” “Center Stage,” “It Runs in The Family,” and “Passionada.”

“SMALL,” which is directed by Jessi D. Hill, is celebrating its area debut with the run at People’s Light’s Steinbright Stage – and the first date of its 2024 national tour.

“This will be my third show at People’s Light,” said Montano. “The first was ‘Fallow’ in 2012 followed by ‘Barcelona’ in 2012. I really enjoy working here at People’s Light.”

Video link for “SMALL” – https://youtu.be/DlzN88yAn8o.

“SMALL’ will run now through February 4. Tickets are $47.

Over the last year, Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) has focused on presenting concerts by tribute acts and this weekend is no different.

On January 18, Uptown! Knauer will host The Breakers, who bill themselves as “the country’s premier Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers tribute band.”
The show was established to let the fans of the late great Tom Petty continue to enjoy the live experience.

On January 19, the theater will present “Back in Black- AC/DC Tribute.”

The “True AC/DC Experience” performed by Back in Black has been touring the United States since 1990, entertaining audiences with AC/DC’S music old and new.

The energetic band features an impressive song list of more than 80 AC/DC songs – classics and deep cuts.

The stage at Uptown! Knauer on January 20 will belong to The Grateful Dub + Roots of Creation.

RoC (Roots of Creation) has taken on a unique new project: Grateful Dub: a Reggae-infused tribute to Jerry Garcia & The Grateful Dead. Grateful Dub captures the spirit and magic of the Grateful Dead, while laying it down Reggae-Dub style.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is hosting J.D. Webb and the Good God Damn on January 20. The opening act will be Strays and Misfits.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) is a perfect destination if you want to stay warm while listening to great music and chowing down on tasty food.

On December 29, Jamey’s will present the Larry Price Quintet.

Abundantly blessed with talent, Price was fueled with a passion for music at the age of five and started playing saxophone when he was 13. He is truly influenced by old-school craftsmen such as Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, and Dexter Gordon, to name a few. This versatile musician believes in the importance of continuously honing his skills, and values opportunities for sharing his talents with youth as a teacher and mentor.

The show at Jamey’s on January 20 will feature River Lane. The band traces its roots to Levittown in the mid 70’s.

Every Sunday, Jamey’s presents “SUNDAY BLUES BRUNCH & JAM” featuring the Philly Blues Kings. Another weekly event at the venue is the “THURSDAY NIGHT JAZZ JAM” featuring the Dave Reiter Trio.

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