COVID Life continues to challenge us here at DHT, but we are incredibly grateful to have had Hurricane Douglas miss us, so there’s that! It was a day of anxious storm watching for me, so that was no fun, but my lanai got a good cleaning once the all-clear was sounded!
The staff has been slowly returning to DHT with the last cohort (the “back of house”, i.e., scene and costume shops) scheduled to return on August 3rd. We’ve been busy with our in-person highly structured MTE summer camp students arriving this week. We’re happy to have kids back in our theatre—though the protocols allow for us to only see/hear them at a safe distance (admin staff are mostly upstairs). Still it will give us a snippet of the old days so we will treasure it!
Meantime, we received over 800 completed subscriber surveys! The responses were terrific, and all were so very heartwarming! Over 90% said they were eager to get back to Diamond Head Theatre. And the comments were wonderful: “Best wishes to you and your wonderful theatre!”; “Can’t wait”; “You are doing a good job. Just bring theatre back!”; “We’ll be coming back!”.
As to be expected however, there was a wariness to returning, and we are taking that to heart. Masks were deemed vital, so we plan mandatory masking. Social distance was also particularly important, so for our show in November/December we are skipping both rows and seats in the row itself. Sanitation loomed large, so we are working on our cleaning protocols both on the surface and in the air. Restrooms were a concern, so we are doing a one-act musical with no intermission and will be monitoring and limiting access to the restrooms. Every day we further fine-tune our protocols, so we will be ready to welcome you back when the time comes.
One other idea we borrowed from theatre colleagues on the mainland is producing a video to show patrons how it is all going to work from buying tickets, to entering the theatre, to exiting (row by row) at the final curtain. We will also be publishing a link to our COVID Safety Manual which will cover what we are doing both backstage with the actors and for front of house with you, our guests.
I recently saw this humorous 2020 calendar that shows January & February and then skips to December. That picture of 2020 is probably closer to reality than we all care to admit. But personally, I think December and our show, Elf Jr., will be here before we know it. We can’t wait!
By John Rampage
When Hello, Dolly! opened on January 16, 1964, it became one of the biggest hits in Broadway history. In the days before buying seats online, crowds stood in line for hours patiently waiting for the opportunity to buy tickets six months to a year in advance. The original production ran for 2,844 performances in addition to countless tours starring every major leading lady in show business.
So, it was quite a coup in May of 1968, when Honolulu Community Theatre, as DHT was previously known, presented its first Hello, Dolly! just four years after its Broadway opening. To put it in perspective, by that timeline, we would have had Hamilton on our stage last season.
For such an auspicious event, Hawaii’s first Hello, Dolly! was produced by HCT but performed at Blaisdell Concert Hall (HIC for us old timers) and starred Broadway, television, and film star Carole Cook. Ms. Cook had been personally chosen by original director Gower Champion to play “Dolly Levi” for a 15-month tour of Australia and New Zealand, making her the first actress other than Carol Channing to play the role. Contacted by the Directors of HCT she agreed to stop off in Honolulu and bring her “Dolly” to Honolulu. The Playbill from 1968 states on the cover “With an all-professional cast” and it certainly was, as it included a young Georgia Engel who played the role of “Minnie Fay,” a part she would play again in the Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! before achieving television stardom on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Everybody Loves Raymond”.
Twenty-one years would pass before “Dolly Levi” came back to our stage in February of 1989, with another guest artist, Dana Adkins, a great Mainland talent with numerous television and stage credits, in the title role. This production was a labor of love for Artistic Director Jim Hutchison who also directed and choreographed the show. Like the first production, this one featured an all star cast of local performers with Richard Pellett, as “Horace Vandergelder,” and a very young Jodi Leong as “Ermengarde”. This second version of Hello, Dolly! was just as fresh and alive as the first had been two decades earlier, but wait, there’s more...!
In 2004, it was again time for “Dolly Gallagher Levi” to make another return to DHT. But there was no need to bring in a guest star for this one as we had Shari Lynn. Many of the famous stars who’ve played the role were not, to put it politely, known for their singing abilities, so to have someone of Shari’s vocal caliber brought a whole new dimension to the character of “Dolly”.
Playing opposite Shari was Dennis Proulx as “Horace Vandergelder”. Dennis already knew the show having played “Cornelius” in the 1989 production but was unaware of the hazards of the famous “food eating” scene in Act 2. Ask anyone who has played the roles, and they’ll tell you it’s the most challenging scene in the show. Each bite of real food, sip of wine and swing of the napkin is choreographed throughout the rapid fire dialogue. As Shari reminded me, sometimes it would get out of sync and Dennis had to duck, as bits of turkey flew past his shoulder, leading to hysterical laughter from both of them. Shari was a wonderful “Dolly Levi” and the scene with her coming down into the house singing “Before The Parade Passes By” up close and personal was truly unforgettable. I still remember the audience’s delighted reaction as I watched from the back rows.
The show Hello, Dolly! was now 40 years old, but soon would once again become the toast of Broadway. When our most famous DHT alumni Bette Midler starred in a 2017 Broadway revival, it brought the joys of Hello, Dolly! to a whole new generation of theatre goers. And its success inspired DHT to bring back the show for fourth time in 2018, this time starring our own Tony-nominated actress Loretta Ables Sayre. It’s a far cry from playing “Bloody Mary” on Broadway to playing “Dolly Gallagher Levi” at DHT, but Loretta met the challenge, completely captivating the audience. And she had a ball singing and dancing with her boys every night. As Loretta says, “What I remember most about our production of Hello, Dolly! is the joy it made people feel. The show is about second chances and the power to choose what makes you happy in your life and then making it happen. “Dolly” gave us all hope.”
And some day in the future, given its appeal, I’m sure there will be a production # 5 of Hello, Dolly! at Diamond Head Theatre. Because, as the song goes, “You’re looking swell, Dolly, we can tell, Dolly, you’re still glowing, you’re still crowing, you’re still going strong!”
For part two of our 100-year journey, we look back on the years of Honolulu Community Theatre from 1941-1965. We hope you enjoy this journey to the past as much as we do!
1941 for Honolulu Community Theatre started like many of the years before, with the Theatre producing a total of 4 shows at Dillingham Hall, their home at the time. Their final production of the year was “Mr. & Mrs. North,” which closed on Saturday December 6, 1941. Members of the cast were still out celebrating when the bombing of Pearl Harbor began. After the shock and realization of being at war, the leaders of HCT sat down to figure out what the theatre’s role would be moving forward. Many of the actors, staff and board members were scattered after taking military positions. And as Dillingham Hall was converted from a theatre into an office building for the United States Engineering Department, the theatre lost its main performing space as well.
The Honolulu Community Theatre decided to change its mission, adding the entertaining of the US service personnel in Hawaii to that of the already established local audience. HCT President H. W. Boynton said, “Not only did we feel a responsibility to carry on the theatrical tradition that ‘the show must go on,’ but we also felt a moral obligation to utilize our talent and facilities in providing some measure of entertainment for the men in the armed forces stationed on America’s front line of defense.”
HCT did public performances as well as touring shows for the servicemen stationed in Hawaii. From December 21, 1941 to December 31, 1945, HCT produced 14 shows that they performed all over the islands of Hawaii. Ten Nights in a Barroom was the first show, opening just two weeks after the blitz in Hawaii. The show ran periodically from Christmas to July 5, 1942, touring to multiple venues for a total of 21 shows. Performances were held in a variety of spaces in the various camps, and some of the outdoor performances led to some frustration and amusement. During performances at Pearl Harbor and Wheeler Air Field for example, actors sometimes had to wait for planes to pass overhead before delivering their lines. Plays were often performed in broad daylight, which made lighting cues (like total black-outs for dramatic effect) quite difficult. On the opposite end, during the occasional evening show, lights would go off and shows were performed illuminated only by flashlights.
The most successful play performed during the war years was The Doughgirls which ran for a total of 64 performances from March to June in 1944, 49 of which were for servicemen. The final war-time production put on by HCT was HMS Pinafore which opened June 21, 1945 at the Roosevelt High School auditorium. At the time there was an influenza epidemic in Honolulu however, so the play was declared “off bounds” for members of the Armed Forces. Special permission was granted for the service members in the cast to continue performing as long as they didn’t mingle with the audience. Many service men who were denied admission stood in the doorway, which was guarded by military police, and listened to the show outside the auditorium.
By the 1950s HCT still did not have a permanent home. They embarked on a mission to raise funds to build a new theatre arts facility in Waikiki, which would house not only the Honolulu Community Theatre but also other arts organizations in the area. This facility never got very far into the planning stages but HCT continued to solicit support for a facility of their own. Their answer came in the form of Fort Ruger Theatre (our current home). In November of 1951, HCT signed a 5-year lease agreement with the USARPAC Theater Guild, which gave HCT use of the theatre and a workshop near Fort Shafter in exchange for help with the Theater Guild’s productions, a promise to utilize military personnel in the casts and crews of HCT shows, and use of HCT’s equipment and stage settings. The first HCT performance at The Ruger Theatre was Taming of the Shrew in June of 1952.
As HCT settled into what would become their home for the next 50+ years, the theatre company continued to perform for both the military and local population, justifiably proud of producing, from 1941-1965, over 150 shows here on Oahu and beyond.
In our second COVID-related story, we check in with another in the DHT ohana. Anna, a popular DHT dance teacher who talks about life from home, what she misses and how she is keeping active and engaged as a dancer and a teacher.
DHT Performer, Instructor, and Volunteer
What has life been like for you throughout this pandemic?
I had been mostly working remotely for the past 6 years, so working from home 100% of the time was fairly easy but my workload doubled quickly, as resources were shifted around.
The biggest change for me, like all parents in this pandemic, was having my 10 and 15-year old kids home all day long. It took some adjustment for all involved. At first, it was easy as they were on spring break. But, as the break kept extending, I realized I had to organize something, so I implemented a “Mom’s Home School”. I set a schedule, chose the subjects, found online worksheets, activities, assignments, and attempted to cover all the bases until their schools started back up online. Thank goodness for strong coffee, art supplies at Ross, Khan Academy math tutorials, and historical documentaries on NETFLIX and AMAZON!
What do you miss most about theatre, about DHT?
I miss the people, their energy, and the magic they create SO MUCH. Be it staff, students, creatives, cast members; all of them coming in to create the community and magic of theater. And, I miss Mr. John peeking his head in on my Broadway Dance class when I play a song or album he is fond of.
Do you have anything theatrical you’ve been doing on a regular basis?
Besides learning to play the ukulele, I have been teaching my DHT dance classes online via Zoom from my garage. Teaching and choreographing virtually has kept my spirits up more than my students will ever know; seeing their smiling faces on a regular basis, dancing and sharing smiles and laughter through all of this craziness keeps me going as much as it keeps them going. I so appreciate them showing up every week faithfully to sweat it out with me and just keep dancing, no matter what!