Portraying Horace Vandergelder in “Hello, Dolly!” doesn’t really test Mark Burgasser’s vocal skills and that’s OK with him. There’s still plenty to love about the role.
“It’s not a huge show for me vocally, but acting wise it’s a great show, and I’m having a lot of fun with the choreography,” said Burgasser, who will play opposite Monica Wemitt as Dolly in the classic Jerry Herman musical opening tonight at the Cohoes Music Hall. “I’m a singer. I love to sing and I get my chance in ‘It Takes a Woman,’ which is a great song, and at the end in the reprise of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ But this role is more about my character and the acting. That’s the real fun part.”
A Buffalo native and Slingerlands resident, Burgasser has been performing on area stages for about 10 years now, his first big role coming as Tevye in the 2004 Park Playhouse production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Just this past August he played Benny Southstreet in C-R Productions’ “Guys and Dolls,” and immediately asked the troupe’s artistic director, Jim Charles, if he had picked out his Horace yet for “Hello, Dolly!”
WHERE: Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 11
HOW MUCH: $35-$25
MORE INFO: 237-5858, www.cohoesmusichall.com
“Yeah, I started lobbying for the part of Horace early,” said Burgasser, laughing. “I told Jim, ‘Please, I want that part,’ and he kept on saying he would check with me later. Well, one night I was chatting with him on Facebook and he gave it to me. I love the show, I love Jerry Herman’s music. I was very happy.”
Burgasser’s gig with “Guys and Dolls” was his first with Charles and C-R Productions.
“I’ve been interested in doing something with them for years, and they wanted me last summer but the timing just didn’t work out,” said Burgasser. “I had another commitment, but this summer we worked it out, and I have to say it was one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life — just the sheer professionalism of the place. They turn around a show in two weeks and put it on with these great actors and dancers from New York. Being in ‘Guys and Dolls’ just really blew me away.”
Burgasser couldn’t work with C-R Productions last summer because he was playing the role of Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside in a Buffalo area production of “Mame,” another popular musical penned by Herman. And two years ago, he was at the Schenectady Light Opera Company for a production of “Side by Side by Sondheim.”
‘I gotta play Horace’
Burgasser grew up loving the classic Broadway musical, and “Hello, Dolly!” was one of the first to have a huge impact on him as a junior high school student.
“The first show I ever saw was ‘Carousel,’ and I can remember it like it was yesterday,” said Burgasser, referring to one of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s most popular efforts. “Then I saw ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and I was just hooked. I was in junior high and we went to this community theater, and I was mesmerized by the woman playing Dolly. I told myself then, ‘I gotta play Horace.’ ”
“Hello, Dolly!” won 10 of the 11 Tony nominations it received after its Broadway debut in January of 1964. The show ran for 2,844 performances, second only to “Fiddler on the Roof” at the time, which was also playing on Broadway in 1964. Carol Channing played the lead and was also Dolly Levi in the 1978 revival.
Hollywood came out with a film version in 1969 with Barbara Streisand as Dolly and Walter Matthau as Vandergelder. The movie was also a huge success and won three of the seven Oscars for which it was nominated.
Changes to the story
The idea for “Hello, Dolly!” came from an 1835 English play by John Oxenford called “A Day Well Spent.” Just a few years later, German writer Johann Nestroy took Oxenford’s work and changed it to “He Intends to Have a Fling.” In 1938 Thornton Wilder produced the next incarnation and named it “The Merchant of Yonkers,” which he revised in 1955 into “The Matchmaker,” with an increased role for the character named Dolly. With Ruth Gordon playing the meddlesome widow who takes it upon herself to bring couples together, the show was finally a hit and turned into a movie starring Shirley Booth in 1958.
It was producer David Merrick who joined forces with Herman and playwright Michael Stewart to create the musical version and bring it to the stage in 1964. Originally written for Ethel Merman — who said, “No, thanks” — “Dolly, a Damned Exasperating Woman,” opened in Detroit and Washington with Channing to mixed reviews. After some major revisions, the show returned to New York and opened on Broadway with another new title. Merrick, after hearing Louis Armstrong’s version of one of the songs from the show, decided to shorten the name to “Hello, Dolly!”
“I think Dolly is a very intriguing person, and I think a lot of people have a lot of Dolly in them,” said Burgasser, who as Vandergelder becomes the target of Dolly’s own romantic intentions. “All she wants to do is bring people together and make them happy. The story and the musical score are just timeless. It constantly amazes me how talented the people are who write these lyrics and the music. To be able to write just one of the songs from this show would be something.”
“Hello, Dolly!” is also Burgasser’s first opportunity to work with Wemitt, who was actually in the 1995 Broadway revival with Channing, playing Ernestina. A Chatham native, Wemitt also appeared on stage with Liza Minelli in “Stepping Out” at Radio City Music Hall in 1991.
‘The Shape of Things’
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 18
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 462-1297, www.albanycivictheater.org
‘Travels with a Masked Man’
WHERE: Hubbard Hall Freight Depot Theater, 25 E. Main St., Cambridge
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: Pay-what-you-will; advanced tickets are $20
MORE INFO: 677-2495, www.hubbardhall.org
Two other shows
Also opening this weekend is the Albany Civic Theater production of “The Shape of Things to Come,” and the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall production of John Hadden’s one-man play, “Travels With a Masked Man.”
“The Shape of Things to Come” is Neil LaBute’s 2001 adult comedy about four college students whose lives become romantically and sexually intertwined with one another. Making up the cast are Rhiannon Antico, Ian LaChance, Laura Murphy and Tom Templeton.
“Travels With a Masked Man” is Hadden’s look at the life of his father, a former CIA station chief in Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. Hadden is the new artistic director at Hubbard Hall.