BWW Interview: Chatting With HELLO, DOLLY! Tour Star, Carolee Carmello
Broadway legend, Carolee Carmello, took a break from life in Yonkers to talk to BroadwayWorld about the national tour of Hello, Dolly!, life on the road, and so much more.
See what the Tony Award-nominated star had to say about her run as the iconic matchmaker so far!
Hello, Dolly! is one of the great American musical comedies to come out of the golden age. What kind of connections did you have to the show prior to being cast? How have your perceptions of the show change since you started?
I think my perception has changed. I had never done the show before so I didn't really have any connection to it. I had only seen the movie and maybe a local production when I was a kid or something, but I didn't really know it that well. I think when I started working on it I was kinda amazed at how funny it was. I always kind of had this perception of it being sort of an old fashioned show. Like you said, it was one of those shows from the golden age that I kind of felt maybe wasn't as relevant or as relatable to a modern audience, but when I started working on it I just felt like that wasn't true at all. I feel like the comedy really holds up, and the relationships hold up, and I was really pleasantly surprised at that.
I definitely felt that way as well. It's one of those that might seem a bit old, but is always worth dusting off.
Yeah! Not every old show can still work in 2019 or 2020, but I really think this one does. Maybe it's partly because of the production and the way Jerry Zaks directed it, and the tone of it all, but I feel like it really works and the audiences seem to be really enjoying it, so that's a good sign.
As we've established, it's been around for such a long time, and a lot of really amazing women have played this role. I really enjoy your Instagram tributes.
What do you think that you bring to the role that is specific to you? That maybe hasn't been done before with it?
Oh my gosh! I don't know if there's anything that hasn't been done with this role. Not only those amazing women who have played it on Broadway, but every town in America has done this show. They say there are no original ideas, and I think that's probably true with Hello, Dolly! too. I'm hoping that I do a good service to the role. It's so well written that you really can't go wrong. I think that's partly why it gets done so much. Anybody's version of it can still work, you know?
It's amazing to me that people as varied as Ethel Merman and Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey and Ginger Rogers and Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters- so many different kinds of women have done this part. People really make it their own, and it still works. I'm not sure if I'm bringing anything unusual to it. I hope I bring some honesty. I think the danger in my mind is to play it too much like a cartoon, too two-dimensional in a way. I think she's a real person. I think those monologues that she has to Ephraim really show her vulnerability, and really let us see what's underneath her bright, fast- talking facade.
Definitely. I can only imagine how many different things there are to uncover.
Yeah. I'm glad I have a little time to do it. So many times you don't. I just did a production of Gypsy last summer, the first time I was ever playing Mama Rose, and we only had one week of performances, because it was one of those summer stock places out in Sacramento, and I was getting to the end of the week and going, "Oh no! I need more time to figure this out." So at least with this tour I have like eight months to dive into it and hopefully I'll feel satisfied by the end that I've uncovered some more things.
How did this tour come into your life? What was the process of you booking such a great gig?
Good question. I wish I knew exactly, but they had originally brought me in when they were auditioning for the Bette Midler version, and then sort of out of the blue I got this call that Betty Buckley was leaving and was I interested. I had worked with Jerry Zaks on a couple of shows before. He directed The Addams Family, and I also did his Sister Act on Broadway. So I guess he felt confident that I could take it on, and I was thrilled. That doesn't happen very often in this life where they just call you and say, "Hey do you wanna do this?". It was great timing for me. I haven't been on tour in a very long time because I was raising children and staying in the New York area. So it was great because my son left for college, and then I left for the tour. Everyone's sort of going off in different directions, but we'll all convene back.
That does seem like perfect timing. It all worked out!
It really was, yeah.
Your run on the tour has just recently started, as you said you have eight months left. Are there any cities that you're really excited to visit that maybe you haven't gotten to in the past?
Sure. I mean I think I've probably performed in most of these cities, but it's always fun to go back, especially because, like I said, I haven't been on tour in a very long time, probably 28 years or so. So things are different. I'm in Detroit right now, and I think the last time I was here, the city was very different. It seems to be revitalized now, and so I'm seeing places for the first time again. Even though I saw them over 30 years ago on tour. I'm really looking forward to Toronto because we have six weeks there. So I feel like I'll really be able to explore more than I have in the past. I've only been there in short little stints, so that's going to be fun. We're going to Texas, to a couple of cities there, which will be fun, and Naples, Florida in the wintertime, which will be nice! Get a little break! So, yeah. I enjoy all of them. I don't think there's a city that I've hit yet that I haven't enjoyed. It's just nice to see different parts of the country.
Up to this point is there a certain role that has meant the most to you, or is there a role you've played that you would like another crack at?
Well the second question as easy. As I was just saying about Gypsy, I feel that that's one of the other iconic roles for women my age. I was so thrilled to get a chance to do it, but it was such a short run that I would love to do that again. So that's an easy answer. I guess the role that meant the most to me was probably Lucille in Parade. Even though that's not a show that everybody knows, it was the first time that I ever created something from the beginning and saw it through to the end, and it was just an amazing piece of theatre that I think didn't quite get the accolades that it deserved. It was just thrilling to work with Hal Prince and Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown. I don't think I can ever top that experience just because it was the first time and such an amazing group of people.
Are there any other real life people that you would want to play or honor in that way of bringing their life to the stage?
Well, for years I've been hoping to do a one woman show that I haven't been able to write because I'm not a writer, but I keep looking for a real life figure in history that needs a show written about them. I have a couple of ideas but I don't want to say them out loud because I'm afraid the idea might get snatched up by somebody else. But there are some amazing not well known women, and as far as well known people. There's so many great women in history, I don't know if there's one that's been written about that I would love to do. I really wanted to play John Adams in this 1776 all female revival that they're doing, but I didn't get that job. So I guess I'll have to wait for the next revival that comes around, but I did get to play Abigail at one point, so that's a good consolation prize.
As we've said, the last time you toured was a very long time ago, and was with Falsettos, right?
Yeah I think that was the most recent one. I did a bunch of tours back then. I did a tour of Les Mis and Big River and what's the other one I'm forgetting? Chess! Those were the big national tours that I did, and then Falsettos. I think Falsettos was the most recent, yeah.
In the short time that you've been touring again, have you noticed any big differences on how tour life has changed in the 20-some years since you last did one?
Yes! The Internet! I mean, you don't remember a time before the Internet, but I certainly do, and the whole system of how you get around in a new city that you don't know is so much easier now. We used to check into a hotel and get a little paper map from the front desk to figure out how to get to the theater and where the laundromat was. It's so much easier now. People just pull the phone out of their pocket and use a GPS to get wherever they need to go. So that has simplified everything.
I guess the other thing the internet has changed is the way people find places to stay in the cities. A lot of people now will look ahead and book apartments even if it's just for a week or two because there are lots of apps that you can use to find temporary furnished apartments, and back in the olden days we all would stay at the same hotel basically, or one or two of the same hotels. So we had a little more of a sense of community because everybody was staying in the same place. Now we're all spread out. A few people are in this hotel, and some people in other hotels, but most people are in apartments all around town. So I miss running into people in the lobby and getting coffee in the morning. That part of it I think is a little bit of a downside. I guess people are more comfortable in whatever version of temporary housing they want to be in, so everyone gets to pick their own.
That's so interesting. If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring performers, maybe not just youthful ones, but of any age, what advice would you give them?
The advice I usually give is the advice that I got when I was starting out, which was very helpful, and that is just audition for everything you can. It seems kind of obvious but sometimes, I think when we are trying to find our place in this business, we sort of eliminate ourselves from certain projects or certain roles because we think we might not be right for it, but you never know. You could walk in and be completely opposite of what they were thinking for the role, but you bring something different to it and they have a 'light bulb' moment and go, "Oh yeah, that could work."
What more often happens is you do a great audition and you're not right for that project, but they remember you for something else. That happened to me a couple of times. I just think in addition to opportunities, it also is such a hard kind of set of skills, and it's so different from actually performing in a show, that the more practice you get at it, the better you are and the more relaxed you are when you walk into the room. So audition for everything you can is my advice.
Do you personally enjoy the audition process?
Noooooooo! It's hateful! [laughter] I don't know if anyone enjoys it. Some people are really, really good at it. I mean you'll see people who get jobs over and over again and you go, "What? Why does that person keep getting work?", when they're not as amazing in the show that you what them to be, but they must be really damn good at auditioning, and I think the opposite is true too. Some people are brilliant onstage but can't quite figure out the audition process. So it's a completely alien and unsettling way to get a job, but I don't think there's any way around it at this point. So, no. I don't enjoy it, but it's a necessary evil.
What do you hope audiences will take home with them from this new production of Hello, Dolly!, and maybe even your Dolly specifically?
There's so many things. Just the sheer sort of joy of the production, I think, is worthwhile. It's a really difficult time in our country right now, and I think a couple hours of joyful celebration in the theatre is worthwhile. The other thing that I hope they get out of it is the kind of idea that's written into the show about second chances.
She, the character of Dolly, is a widow and she's kind of resigned herself to that for years, but now she's having this second chance at love and life. I think that's an important lesson. I've had a lot of people come up to me after the show and talk about their lives after losing a loved one or after a divorce or something like that. I think it's really a valuable thing to celebrate.
Hello, Dolly! plays Procter & Gamble Hall - Aronoff Center For The Arts. December 3 - December 15650 Walnut Street Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information visit: https://www.cincinnatiarts.org. For a full list of dates visit hellodollyonbroadway.com/tour.