In April of 1983, Albany native Carolee Carmello, a business major at the University at Albany, decided that she might just dabble in the theater world a bit and see how things go.
Thirty-six years later, after landing the role of Marian the Librarian in the Schenectady Light Opera Company's production of "The Music Man" at Proctors, Carmello will return to the Proctors' stage in May of 2020 in the national touring production of "Hello Dolly!"
Carmello will play one of Broadway's most iconic characters, Dolly Levi, replacing Tony Award winner Betty Buckley in the title role. This revival of the classic American musical won four Tony Awards in 2017 before heading out on tour.
"I had originally auditioned for the Broadway show but I didn't get cast then," said Carmello from her home in New Jersey. "But they asked me to come back and do the tour after Betty leaves the show in September. I was thinking about it and then I looked at the schedule and I saw how the tour ended in Schenectady. The very last stop was Proctors. That kind of sealed it for me."
Carmello will take over from Buckley later this year in September and finish up her nine-month gig in Schenectady next May 5-10. A 1980 graduate of Albany High, Carmello said it was her experience doing SLOC's production of "The Music Man" that inspired her to put the theater first.
"I didn't know I was going to do this as a living back then," Carmello said. "I was studying business administration and thinking about graduate school. But playing Marian the Librarian with SLOC was my first big show, and that really got me excited about the theater."
Carmello made her Broadway debut six years later in 1983, and now has 14 Broadway shows on her resume, including three Tony nominations. Before she takes over the lead in "Hello Dolly!" this fall, Carmello is heading to Florida to work on a new musical with Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the songwriting team that produced "Ragtime."
"I was part of a reading they had back in New York for their new musical based on the book, 'A Death in the Family,'" said Carmello. "I'm going down to help them workshop it for a couple of weeks, and then it's back to New York to get ready for 'Dolly.' I've never done the show before so I have a lot of lines to learn."
Carmello, whose parents and two brothers still reside in the Capital Region, said she's thrilled to be playing a role originated by Carol Channing back in 1964. The 2017 Broadway revival of Jerry Herman's smash hit had Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters in the lead role before Buckley took over.
"Well, I think I am plenty old enough to play her now," said Carmello, laughing. "She doesn't have an exact age, but the character is well into her middle late years. It's such a thrill to be playing this character, and I'm really excited to follow Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters and Betty Buckley. So many amazing women have played this part, so I don't think I'm going to try to reinvent the wheel or anything. I'll just put a little bit of my own spin on it. The play is so well written you can interpret it in many ways, bring your own ability to it and it all still works."
A member of the inaugural class of the Capital Region Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2011, Carmello's Broadway credits include playing Abigail Adams in "1776" and Donna Sheridan in "Mamma Mia!"