Monica M. Wemitt may have grown up right across the street from Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, but it was her TV that got her interested in performing.
"Between Lucille Ball, Shirley Temple, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, I kind of knew where I was going," said Wemitt, who is playing Dolly Gallagher Levi in the Mac-Haydn production of the Broadway smash "Hello Dolly!' opening today and running through Sept. 3. "I used to see the actors and dancers coming out of Mac-Haydn all sweaty and happy after rehearsals. They were smiling. I thought that's the job for me, but I didn't see a show there until I was probably 23."
Wemitt, who played Ernestine in the 1994 revival of "Hello Dolly!" on Broadway, will be making her second appearance at Mac-Haydn as Dolly, having played the lead in the 2009 production in Chatham. It's a role people have told her she was born to play.
"It's a great role, and I sure do love it," she said. "It's about seeing people get together."
The story focuses on a matchmaker named Dolly Gallagher Levi, who is hired by a Yonkers' millionaire, Horace Vandergelder, to find him a wife. It was the role Carol Channing originated way back in 1964. Along with playing Ernestine in the 1994 revival, Wemitt also served as understudy in the role of Dolly.
"That was my Broadway debut," Wemitt said of the 1994 revival. "It was a wonderful moment. To see the audience reaction to Carol Channing back on Broadway in the iconic role that she pretty much put her stamp on was a great moment to be a part of."
While sharing in the moment was fun, Wemitt said she really didn't have the opportunity to get to close to Channing.
"She pretty much kept to herself," said Wemitt, who played Madame de la Grand Bouche in "Beauty and the Beast" on Broadway and performed on tour with Liza Minnelli in "Stepping Out." "She had 7,000 people vying for her attention, so you kind of kept your distance, and if you got a moment with her alone that was great."
While Wemitt was based in New York City for more than 20 years, she is back living in Chatham and has become a regular at Mac-Haydn, and not only on the stage. She also serves as the troupe's company manager and associate producer. One of the aspects of Mac-Haydn she enjoys most is its venue: It is theater in-the-round.
"You don't live life on a proscenium stage, so I love it because there are people all around you," she said. "For me, it makes performing so much easier."
New York City-based Brian Wagner will play Horace in the Mac-Haydn production of "Hello Dolly!" Earlier this season he was in "Sweeney Todd" at Mac-Haydn. Joining him and Wemitt onstage will be Rachel Rhodes-Devey as Irene Molloy and Ryan Michael Owens as Cornelius Hackl. Rhodes-Devey recently appeared in the national tour of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" and was also in "Some People Hear Thunder" at Capital Rep earlier this year.
"Hello Dolly!" won 10 Tonys when it first came out on Broadway in 1964. Channing was in two revivals, replaced by Pearl Bailey in a third , and earlier this year a brand-new production came to Broadway starring Bette Midler.
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203, Chatham
WHEN: Opens today and runs through Sept. 3; performances are at 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $36-$33; children under 12 with an adult, $15
MORE INFO: 792-9292, www.machaydntheatre.org