From the first moment that we hear the overture for Hello Dolly!, we are smitten with Jennie Eisenhower in the starring role of this charming, sweet, and often emotional portrayal of Jerry Herman’s classic musical.
The time-honored musical, which is quickly selling out at the Act II Playhouse in Ambler, is certainly a crowd-pleaser. The show runs through Sunday, June 18, and is a lovely way to start your summer entertainment.
One of the most beloved musicals in Broadway history, Hello Dolly tells the story of Dolly Gallagher-Levi, a turn-of-the-century matchmaker in 1890s Yonkers, New York. She whisks in, with all of her splendor, and brings love to everyone’s lives.
All the elements of humor, romance, energetic dance, and some of the greatest songs in musical theatre history including Before the Parade Passes By, Put on Your Sunday Clothes, and the romantic It Only Takes a Moment, are found – and squeezed down to fit the Act II stage. It is no small feat.
The high-quality cast, lovely period costumes, and well-crafted choreography result in a colorful, high-energy, and delightful afternoon or evening at the theater located right in your community.
This production of Hello Dolly! will make you fall in love from the start of the opening number. So, definitely, don’t Let the parade pass you by.
Taking on the leading role of Dolly is actress Jennie Eisenhower who returns to Act II Playhouse having previously appeared in the 2016 production of Kiss Me Kate.
Other familiar faces fill out the talented cast which includes Scott Langdon, Zachary Chiero, Elyse Langley, Renee McFillin, Lee Slobotkin, Jessica Riloff, Jeremy Kanopa, Dominick Sannelli, Eleni Delopoulos, Taylor Hilt Mitchell, Vaughn Meccod, Angela LaRose, and Cara Treacy.
Dan Matarazzo is the Musical Director, Paul Dake is the Production Stage Manager, Seana Benz, and Bowie Dake are the Assistant Stage Managers, Dirk Durossette is the Scenic Designer, James Leitner is the Lighting Designer, Amanda Hatch is the Props Designer, Alex Dakaglou is the Sound Designer, Alice Dake the Scenic Artist, and Andrew Meinhart the Technical Director. The set is constructed by Flannel & Hammer Scene Shop.
“We have had great success in the past with productions like My Fair Lady, Kiss Me Kate, and Man of La Mancha, taking giant musicals and cleverly fitting them on our Playhouse stage,” said Act II Artistic Director, Tony Braithwaite. “We welcome the beloved characters of Hello, Dolly! to join this legacy of fantastic performances.”
Read on for Jennie Eisenhower’s take on her character, Dolly, what she loves about the music, her affection for the entire cast and crew, and why we should not miss this charming production of Hello Dolly!
What do you love about Dolly and this show?
Jennie Eisenhower: I love this character. I love her resilience. She’s also a true fighter for the happiness of everyone around her. Dolly orchestrates to go her way, but in doing so she’s helping everyone around her find love, happiness, and comfort and it’s a beautiful story. I love the show, especially coming out of Covid. My community lost so much during that difficult couple of years. So, to be doing a show about embracing joy and embracing the moment and coming out of a hard time to find joy, beauty, and love – it’s an extra special time to be working on a project like this, and with this cast, which is so kind. I am so grateful to be there. It’s very special.
Everyone assumes you rehearse for a long time. What was the rehearsal schedule?
We had two weeks of rehearsal and went into tech and previews. It was a very short process, but that’s common for the Philadelphia area. That’s becoming the new normal. This show came together very quickly.
At the beginning of the show, Dolly gives out business cards to the other characters on stage and a few to the audience members. How many cards do you have in your bag?
I sometimes get really liberal so they put a ton in my bag. I love giving them out in the front section. There is an unlimited supply so I can be liberal with them.
How familiar are you with the Broadway musical and the movie?
I grew up on Julie Andrews musicals and knew them down to my bones. I had seen Hello Dolly! movie (starring Barbra Streisand), and saw the musical at the Media Theater with Andrea McCardle. It was wonderful. At the time I tucked it away because I didn’t feel I was old enough to play it.
When Act II asked me to do the role I dove back in and looked at the movie role with Streisand. I had to play some catch-up. It wasn’t one of the ones I knew inside and out, but it was one I recognized as an excellent show, and it was on my list to play one day. That day is now.
Talk about the lovely costumes that you wear in this show.
I’m always interested in the experience of inhabiting the body of the character. Our clothing is easier to move in and free. I am wearing a corset underneath my dress. The first act is hot and heavy and has a train that is hard to work with. All of that, all of it helps me because that is what women are dealing with. I love that about the costumes. Stunningly beautiful.
My last dress is incredibly tight and uncomfortable, but I still have to hustle in it doing the 17 jobs to survive after my husband passed. So, the costumes gave me a deeper appreciation for the obstacles women had to deal with. In my real life, I am not a dress girl. I prefer suits.
What are your favorite songs in the show?
The whole score is so beautiful. The one that gets stuck in my head and that my nine-year-old daughter loves is the Motherhood March. We sing it all the time at home. It’s funny that that’s the one she likes. I also love Put on Your Sunday Clothes because it’s about connecting with people and choosing happiness. It harkens back to a time when we couldn’t do that, so I love that song!
What has helped you get through tough times – both at work and home?
I’ve definitely had tough challenges, like most of us, and I know that people want to be there for you. So, it’s about leaning into the people in your life that you have been kind to and asking for support. So, for me, it’s about reaching out even when your instinct when you are sad is to go inside. Lean into the people who love you; they want to be there for you. My sisters, best friends, and parents have come through tough times. Reaching outward and fighting that instinct. It’s not that hard for me since I’m an extrovert.
Based on your years of experience, what advice do you have to offer younger performers?
No matter the size of the show, or the size of your role, everything you do in this industry. The way you treat people with respect and kindness; you never know who is going to remember that and give you a chance. I have a tendency to let the drama sweep me up. Sometimes people act like divas. The best thing you can do in theater for your career is to forever be grateful and gracious because all of it truly matters. The community is one of the most important parts of it and the more love you put into it the more comes out.
Talk about the unique staging and chirography on such a small stage.
It starts with an understanding this is a very large show to condense into a small space. But we were blown away by the vision of our director Stephen Casey. He still captures and tells the story given the confines of the smaller space. We went into this knowing it was going to be a challenge.
I found it exciting to see Stephen work and watch it come together and defy the odds. Every character, even the ensemble characters, is paired by the end of the show. Every couple that finds love in the piece after Dolly has guided them – it’s subtle. As I look at these couples knowing my character has had a hand in helping them find love is unbelievable.
In your non-theater life, you sell real estate. How did this come about and do they go well together?
It does pretty nicely. It is an industry in which you get out of it what you put into it. When I pursue theater projects, I am able to scale back the work with my clients and work to make sure my schedule is not too jam-packed, and I am able to manage both. I got my real estate license during Covid. I didn’t know what the future would look like after my 20 years in community theater. This was a smooth transition, for me and my friends in the theater community. I love being able to help them find and purchase a house. Both are very social industries so It’s a wonderful fit. There are hectic days like the Hello Dolly! opening was the same day as a home inspection in Roxboro, but I make it work.
If you had a few days off, how would you spend your free time?
Probably doing some sort of travel with my wife and daughter. I love to travel to new places. This summer we are going to Toronto. Sometimes we go with my daughter, Chloe, to all-inclusive resorts with fancy drinks and sit in the pool. It’s hard for me to unplug at home from my theater and real estate roles because they are very personal. So, I would definitely take that opportunity to go out to get yummy food, see a show in a different town, go shopping, and explore.
Why should people come – either first-timers or those who have seen it before?
There is never a bad time to see Hello Dolly!, it is so full of joy. If you’ve seen it before I recommend that you see this version for the choreography and innovative way that they condensed it, and the intimacy of the theater. You will pick up the subtleties of our production of this show and the cast is really suburb so it will feel like a treat to get to see these performances. I am very proud of our work. If someone is in the Philadelphia area, they shouldn’t miss it. I would say that it is definitely worth checking out.
Ticket prices start at $32 and are available online at act2.org, by calling the Act II Box Office at 215-654-0200, or in person at the Box Office at 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA.
The Box Office is open Mon through Sat, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Student tickets are $15 and group discounts are also available.
Several performances are already sold out, so do not delay in purchasing your tickets.