Betty Buckley talks about Hello, Dolly!
I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. When my mother took me to see my first musical, I had this epiphany: That’s it! That’s what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life!
I was a performer from age 11 on, a professional at 15—playing Baby June in Gypsy—and on Broadway at 21 in 1776. Once you’ve been smitten by the beauty of all these talented artists coming together to create great musical theater, its life changing.
I first saw Hello, Dolly! when I was a senior in high school, a stock production at our local theater, the Casa Manana. And then on a college trip to New York I saw Pearl Bailey, in the original Gower Champion production on Broadway. Hello, Dolly! is one of the all-time wonderful musicals in the lexicon of musical comedy. And this new production, directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Warren Carlyle; it’s so fresh and so outstandingly beautiful. When I saw it in New York, it was like the greatest ice cream sundae that I’ve ever seen!
I had never even pictured myself playing Dolly, so I was honored when Scott Rudin and Jerry Zaks asked me to bring it on the road. It’s very daunting to step into that red dress and to walk down the iconic staircase at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, to greet all those dancing waiters who leap—so thrillingly—across the orchestra pit on all sides of me!
I think of the legacy of so many great actress singers who played this role from the time I was a teenager. Carol Channing first, of course; and then Mary Martin. I grew up listening to her cast albums, because she was born in Weatherford, Texas, just an hour away from my home town. So I was thrilled to find out that she’d played Dolly. And the rest: Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Betty Grable, even Ethel Merman. This new production which we’re touring across the country started with the great Bette Midler, and it was also played in New York by both Donna Murphy and Bernadette Peters.
In addition to regular rehearsals and tutoring – these are elementary school age kids, after all – there are also separate band rehearsals. “It’s really fun,” says Silverman. “All the kids that play instruments, we all jam out. We’ll play some songs from the show, but if we’re, like, really spot on with those, then we’ll play something like “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” the Guns N’ Roses song, she adds, laughing.
There’s a magical feeling you get, when you’re up there in the spotlight and about to launch into a big solo. I’m so aware, in that moment in time, that it’s not only me! It takes about 200 people—writers, directors, actors, musicians, stagehands—to create that particular moment of magic. Yes, the audience is wildly applauding, 2000 people out front. But it is 200 people, they combine to make this one exquisite moment of soaring music and drama and excitement. I’m just the quarterback in the moment.
I’m honored and thrilled to do Dolly now, to take it across the country. I’m a cowgirl from Texas, so anything that’s challenging is really super fun for me. I love the discipline of being a musical theater artist and having to show up eight times a week, and get it right for each and every audience.
Hello, Dolly! is now playing at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre through March 17. Get your tickets now at shnsf.com!