This story has been modified since its initial publication to reflect a correction.
The character Dolly inspired a famous 1964 musical written by Michael Stewart and the 1969 film “Hello, Dolly!” The musical was produced on Broadway by David Merrick and won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a record it held for 37 years.
Walla Walla High School’s production opens at 7 p.m. Nov. 14. Set in New York in the 19th century, the farce in four acts revolves around love and money.
“I was really excited to do a period piece because we’ve done a lot more modern shows recently. The decorum of the period is really different from how the kids are today so we’re working on posture and … class rules and regulations,” said Kristin Hessler, the director.
Hessler has been teaching for four years now and has received an outstanding teacher award and top eight in the state for her previous musical “Big Fish.”
“Kristin gets all these young adults and she finds the talent and she finds the passion that they have and she cultivates it. She can bring it out in them in a way that they don’t even know that they’re blossoming. … I am so impressed with her style,” said Wendy Jones, a co-producer and hair dresser for the play.
Hessler helps the students bring the comedy out of the play. “It’s not hard to make people cry; it is hard to make people laugh. Comedy is something that is different and it’s about timing and perspective and having the right energy,” said Jones.
Charity Wagner, who plays Levi, said the hardest part was “figuring out how to talk the language. It isn’t ancient, but it is just old enough that the words feel funny in your mouth.”
In the play, Levi is after Horace Vandergelder’s affections because he is very wealthy. Vandergelder’s character is described by Jacob Rose, who plays Vandergelder, as “pompous and misogynistic.”
To adapt to the character, Rose had to add humor so that he is so arrogant it’s funny. He said he has to give a monologue to the audience about how marriage should be for his comfort and a woman should be cooking and helping around the house.
“I have to find a way to appeal to the audience … to make them not completely despise me but at the same time, develop my character to what he portrays throughout the play,” said Rose.
Vandergelder’s speech is about how women are like ants. “It’s comical to watch now but people genuinely thought that way back in the day and so it’s weird seeing it on stage,” said Wagner.
“We have to break the fourth wall and talk to the audience,” said Hessler.
The themes of money tie into the love story of Levi and Vandergelder.
Levi is very extravagant. “I slip into her voice sometimes — I’m doing it right now. She is also very passionate about how money should be spent in society. A line in the play is ‘money isn’t worth anything unless it’s spread around,’” said Wagner.
Vandergelder is stingy and constantly wants to control every penny he spends. He does not want to give it away to anyone, said Rose.
“One of the fun things of this play is that the kids break out of their (social) classes. The clerks pretend to be rich at this very fancy restaurant that they can’t afford and ‘what are we going to do and how are we going to pay for it?’ They decided, ‘Oh well, I guess we will figure it out when we get there,’” said Hessler.
In this scene, character Cornelius Hackl, a young clerk played by Matt Reser, encounters his employer Vandergelder, and the friends try to scramble so they do not get caught eating a rich, fancy dinner.
Reser said he brings a lot of comedy to the scene as he interprets his character in a very old comedy style because he personally followed comedians like Jerry Lewis growing up with his father.
Malachai Stack, played by Avery Haag, jumps into the mix of this scene for a monologue. Haag describes him as “sardonic” meaning, sarcastic for the purpose of inflaming others.
Haag said he felt a strong connection to this role because he felt the character already embodied him in real life, allowing him to add “big choices,” which is actor jargon for making personalizations to a character. Haag speaks in a higher and quicker voice for his character. The character adds wise nuggets throughout the play, in between scenes of progressive binge drinking.
The two comedic characters Hackl and Stack give the play a lot of laughs. “Because it’s dated I’m worried people will not think it’s going to be funny, but we, as the adults that run the show, find ourselves chuckling all the time,” said Hessler.
Musical accompaniment by the Walla Walla High School band is composed by Aiyana Mehta, Whitman College graduate with degrees in sociology and music composition.