BWW Interview: Jessica Sheridan of HELLO, DOLLY! at Peace Center
It's a role made famous by such legendary performers as Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Bette Midler, and Bernadette Peters. Now Broadway legend Betty Buckley tackles the role of matchmaker Dolly Levi in the new Tony Award-winning production of the beloved musical Hello Dolly, arriving at the Peace Center on May 28.
Understudying the role of Dolly in this production is another veteran performer, Jessica Sheridan. Her Broadway credits include stints in Mary Poppins, Sister Act and Les Miserables. She also appeared in the Broadway production of Hello Dolly before it began touring. Most nights Jessica plays Dolly's over-the-top friend Ernestina. We asked Jessica to tell us about the show and her experiences working with four different actresses in the title role (Bette Midler, Donna Murphy, Bernadette Peters, and Betty Buckley).
BWW: Please tell us a little about yourself. And from looking at your resume, there's a lot you could tell!
Jessica Sheridan: [Laughs] Yes! I have done at least five Broadway shows and seven or eight national tours and understudied a lot of amazing leading ladies. I've been a very successful working actor.
You can't ask for much more than that!
Yes! It's not an easy business sometimes, so I'm very happy with what I've accomplished.
So tell us a little about this particular production.
I was in the original company of Hello Dolly and got to experience it from the beginning with Jerry Zaks, with Warren Carlyle, with Scott Rudin, with Bette Midler. It was a very exciting, quite amazing, dream-fulfilling job. I'm very, very lucky and happy to be a part of it.
Yes. I went straight from the Broadway production, with actually two weeks of double duty when I was rehearsing the national tour and doing the Broadway show at night. I closed Broadway and I opened the national tour.
So you've worked with at least four main Dollys. Tell me about the different approaches of the four different performers .
Well, interestingly enough, I have discovered - which I don't think I knew when I started this production - that really, if you can play Dolly, it just works. And it works for everyone. It really is amazing how someone can have a completely different approach but it still works. Obviously we are all directed by Jerry Zaks and we are trying to interpret his vision of Dolly Levi, but also there is, well, everybody has a different personality and all of these women are amazing performers and give amazing performances in different ways, buts it really works for everyone. It's an incredibly well-written piece, and it really does lend itself to so many different personalities that still land an amazing show.
When you have performed the role, what kind of pressures do you feel and how do you approach it?
The most obvious is trying to get the audience on your side, because they come to see whoever the name is above the title. So there is that hurdle that needs to be jumped right off the bat, and more than anything I try to push that out of my mind and just do the show. But I've also had the luxury of watching four different women play the part, so I can take the best parts, or the things that work for me, from any of them. And I have my own interpretation of the role as well. But it really is - if I let myself go there - I could get completely balling with tears because I'm in such awe that I'm even on the stage playing this iconic part. I really have to push it out of my head, because it's overwhelming when you really think about it, for me anyway.
I can see that! So tell me a little about the part that you usually play.
I play Ernestina, and Ernestina is basically a foil for Dolly. She has Vandergelder go out to dinner with Ernestina, and because Ernestina is such a big personality and really kind of over-the-top shall we say, Vandergelder is not thrilled at all. Which then puts Vendergelder right into Dolly's lap, which is exactly what she wanted in the first place.
It must be fun to play that kind of character.
You give up all your inhibitions and you just go for it.
So talk to me about the outfits. I feel like this show in some ways is about the spectacle of the costumes.
They're so beautiful. The sets, the costumes, the music, all of it, really -- that iconic, classic musical. And these costumes in particular are just eye candy. They're little treats in themselves if you really just look at one costume, and all the different fabrics and they way they're put together - it's remarkable, the hats and the gloves and it's just beautiful.
Is it fun to have that extensive wardrobe?
What's interesting is you kind of forget, because you're wearing the same clothes every day. But because we go to a different city, the dressers there are always like "Oh my gosh, it's so beautiful, it's so pretty!" and you forget, oh yes, I'm wearing this gorgeous costume!
Tell me about working with Betty Buckley and her approach to the role.
To tell you the truth I don't know what her personal approach is, but she is a classic Broadway icon, and she puts her own Betty Buckley spin on Dolly, just like any of the women before her. And again, that's what's remarkable about the role - if you want to see that icon play the part, that's what you're going to get. Dolly really fits every single woman.
And that speaks to the staying power of the show.
That's why it works. It's a show about love and finding love at every age of your life, so that is a message that permeates to everyone.
My 12 year old son is especially looking forward to this, more so than most of the other shows this season.
As a kid I was always attracted to the older musicals, the classics. I don't know why, but those were the ones that really intrigued me. I loved anything Ethel Merman did. For some reason that's what I wanted to see. And to tell you the truth, I never thought they'd ever come back again or that I would have the opportunity to be a part of them. Because people have a wheelhouse that they perform in - these classic old musicals are really my wheelhouse, and I feel in a way I've been sort of faking it until I got to this point. Because this is really where I fit in the groove, these old classic musicals. It's where I feel most comfortable.
It almost feels like we're reaching point where we're going to see more of this stuff come back.
And I don't think the public really has access to these. They've heard about Mary Martin and Ethel Merman playing those parts way back when, but they didn't get to see it. So now they're able to se those fantastic classic musicals and they then remember again, oh, wow, what an incredible show. And once you see it with someone else, you really don't need to see those other performances. It's very hard to explain, but it's just that the show is so well-written and the story is so wonderfully told, that you don't need to see those performances from the past. Betty gives her own iconic performance. It really is such a fantastic musical and so well-written and beautiful to look at and listen to and full of wonderful dancing -- it's the whole package, really.
Hello Dolly runs May 28-June 2 at the Peace Center in downtown Greenville, SC. For tickets and showtimes call the box office at 864.467.3000 or visit peacecenter.org.