Arts and Entertainment

The show must go on: TBA Theatre performs ‘Hello, Dolly!’ 30 months after pandemic postponement

Eric Rueb (Barnaby), Shaylyn Goard (Minnie), Lindsay Lamar Schweizer (Irene) and Todd Baer (Cornelius) perform during a rehearsal

The cast had been working in the performance space for nearly a week, and the orchestra had begun to populate the pit at Wendy Williamson Auditorium on a nightly basis.

The anticipation began to swell within the TBA Theatre company as the full group prepared to rehearse the first act of “Hello, Dolly!” live on the stage where the show was set to open a week later.

The date was March 12, 2020. Within hours, the show was postponed as the University of Alaska Anchorage began closing facilities in anticipation of COVID-19.

“The show was postponed indefinitely,” director Megan Bladow Addis said. “We thought it’d blow over in a month or so. Little did we know how long it would last.”

The postponement lasted 30 months. Now, the company is finally taking the show public: “Hello, Dolly!” will run Sept. 16 to 25 with performances on both weekends.

“Our motivation to produce excellent musical theater is so huge,” Addis said. “(This) is the day we’ve been waiting for.”

While the level of excitement is at a peak now, there were plenty of low times over the past 2 1/2 years as the company kept hoping to relaunch the production.

Ensemble cast members Autumn Levy (left) and Olivia Phelps help apply make-up to Eric Rueb
Todd Baer, right, who plays Cornelius Hackl in the TBA Theatre production of "Hello, Dolly!" talks to ensemble members Stevie Bahner and Wade Nyquist

There were plans to try the spring of 2021, but conditions with the pandemic still weren’t right. Then in the spring of 2022, the facility wasn’t ready. But waiting until spring 2023 seemed untenable as well.

“You can only keep up with something for so long before it’s more depressing than it is rewarding,” Addis said.

Erin Dagon Mitchell, who plays the title role of Dolly Levi, initially held out hope the show would be back on the stage relatively quickly.

“The first six months, I’d review lines and continue to work on songs from the show,” she said. “At some point, I tucked the script away and it turned into emotional baggage. I thought, ‘This isn’t going to happen.’ The hope of it happening became more of a burden because, what if it never does? When will live theater ever happen again?”

Erin Dagon Mitchell as Dolly Levi in the TBA Theatre production of "Hello, Dolly!"

Predictably, many changes have occurred since the show was cast in early 2020. Only about half of the cast was able to return when the show was reorganized this July, according to Addis. Three cast members have had children in the interim, and the musical director moved out of the state.

“People who had been playing the roles of young teens have gone on to college,” said TBA Theatre artistic director Shane Mitchell, who plays Horace Vandergelder in the show.

There were other challenges, including having to remake many of the costumes and consolidate some of the roles to fit a smaller company.

“We didn’t have the same amount of prep time between when we were able to nail down a time and start rehearsing,” Shane Mitchell said.

The case of "Hello, Dolly!" rehearses “Before the Parade Passes By” in 2020

But with the losses have come unexpected gains.

“We’ve got some really wonderful people who had moved up since the pandemic,” Addis said. “One of the thrilling things for me, we’ve had these people that have worked on it for a long time and had it infused with this new blood.”

In going from nearly 50 actors to closer to 30, opportunities have opened up for greater roles.

“In many ways it’s very exciting,” Shane Mitchell said. “For some actors, it meant more stage time and different characters. You get into being an actor because you want the challenge of that sort of thing.”

In the past week, the company reached the point of preparation they were at when the show was canceled — a full costumed run-through of the first act with the orchestra.

“When we hit that point and started to rehearse that last week, it was very emotional. This is it! This is amazing,” said Erin Dagon Mitchell.

Technical director Wayne Mitchell, right, works with backstage crew member Steven Meyer on the Harmonia Gardens chandelier

For her, the role of Dolly is indicative of the resilience the company has shown in seeing the production through.

The titular musical number closes with the refrain: “Dolly’ll never go away / Dolly’ll never go away / Dolly’ll never go away again.”

“When I get to actually do that and the orchestra is playing, this is all very emotional,” she said. “It’s given a depth to that for me that wasn’t there before.”

Although the popular phrase “The show must go on” may have devolved into a showbiz trope, Addis sees the production as a victory for persistence in the name of the arts.

“It’s kind of bringing it full circle,” Addis said. “It’s not over, but we’re in a place where we could move on. We can let go of some of the things we’ve held on to, to start fresh.”

‘Hello, Dolly!’

TBA Theatre production at Wendy Williamson Auditorium

Friday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 24 at 2 p.m.

Sunday, Sept 25 at 3 p.m.

Tickets: tbatheatre.org

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.

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