Dolly Gallagher Levi has been in mourning for a while. She lost her husband, Ephraim, years ago and has set her matrimonial sights on Yonkers businessman Horace Vandergelder.
Those familiar with “Hello, Dolly!” – and those who attend this week’s performances of the musical by Pelham Memorial High School’s drama group – Sock n’ Buskin – know that there is really only one place it could be. The place with the friendliest and most acrobatic wait staff around.
The Harmonia Gardens.
Senior Charlotte Donovan, 17, plays Dolly, the matchmaker, piano teacher and carrier of many business cards. She says Dolly is two different women, really, when she’s with the two men in her life – Horace and her late husband, Ephraim.
“She has different levels,” Donovan says. “On one level, she’s really out there and eccentric. But when she talks to Ephraim – she talks to him a lot – she’s a completely different character. Ephraim was her first husband, her one and only love. She tells him she’s looking to get married again and explains ‘It won’t be a marriage like you and I had one, but I will make him happy.’
“She closed herself off after her husband died and she wants to marry Horace because that will get her back out into the world,” a feeling that’s captured in the Act 1 closing number “Before the Parade Passes By.”
And, sure enough, not long after intermission, Dolly arrives at The Harmonia Gardens, where the waiters and cooks are so happy to see her that they burst into the title song.
But before she arrives, their maitre d’, Rudolph – played by senior Anne Aust – tells the staff: “Tonight, of all nights, our lightning service be twice as lightning as ever – or else.”
That sets off a chain-reaction dance number when the waiters strut their stuff. It’s called “the waiters’ gallop” and choreographer Neil Schleifer says it’s big.
“It’s 12 different scenes with a dance number that’s weaved in between them,” Schleifer says. “It’s more like creating a tapestry than creating a dance. Within it, you’ve got the entrance of Irene and Cornelius, the entrance of Vandergelder and Ernestina, each of them pops out during the scene and walks through the scene. They lose their wallets. It’s storytelling and dance and exposition all together.”
Through it all, the waiters make quick entrances and exits, carrying skewers, trays, tablecloths, pitchers, brushes, menus, stacks of plates – and a turkey.
“It’s all about the props,” says Schleifer.
In Pelham, owing to what Donovan calls “a lack of boys,” the top-notch and talented wait staff at the Harmonia Gardens is played by a dozen girls.
Aust, as their boss, blows her whistle to get things started. She calls it “quite a cardio workout” for the team, whom she watches and directs from upstage.
“Adding the props with the singing with the steps – and a lot of it is partnering up and doing exactly what your partner is doing – which makes it a challenge on top of a challenge on top of a challenge, but I think they’ve done great so far,” Aust says. “And the better you do, the longer the mustache.”
Yes, they’ll wear mustaches, a point that seems to inspire these waiters with pretty faces.
Liz Penberthy plays Danny, whose name won’t be changed because he’s being played by a 15-year-old sophomore with a ponytail. She says each step of the process – from the first gallop rehearsals in January to this point – has been a challenge.
“You learn it without all of the other aspects of the scene going on. You can do it without the music and it’s fine. Then you add the music and the props and it’s so much more confusing,” she says.
“But we’ll have mustaches,” she adds with a big smile.
Joanna Orefice -whose dad, John, directs “Dolly!” – plays Jerry. (In an hommage to the playwright, extra waiters are Jerry and Herman.) She says the challenge is remembering all the steps and putting them in the right order, “and being in sync with everyone.”
Alex DeSantis, 17, a senior, plays Louie.
“There are 12 of us trying to sing as well as possible, trying to dance as well as possible and trying to keep in our head what we have to do next,” she say. “It’s immensely difficult.”
The challenge, DeSantis says, is to make it look effortless, “like we’re having the time of our lives running around carrying plates of turkey.”
“And we get mustaches, apparently,” she says. “I’m really excited for that.”
Arshia Panicker, 16, a junior, plays Stanley.
“It’s all synchronized,” she says. “We come in from both sides of the stage and since we don’t sing during the gallop, you really have to listen for certain notes. It’s really fast and you have to enter and exit on the exact beat.
“We walk really fast. We don’t have to gallop, necessarily. It was really scary in the beginning, but once you know what you’re doing, it’s a lot of fun.
“And we get mustaches and everything,” she gushes.
Kristin Melendez, 16, a junior, plays Tommy. She used to study dance, she says, so the steps in the gallop aren’t too tough. And Schleifer makes it clear exactly what he wants.
“When we kick and salute, he says ‘You salute with four fingers, not two fingers. Get it right.’ ”
Melendez says the gallop is easier than the title song it precedes.
“I was sick when they learned ‘Hello, Dolly!’ so I’m still trying to figure it out.”
The challenging part of the gallop is when Horace and Cornelius weave through the waiters, she says, but it’s something they’ve rehearsed plenty.
And the payoff will be huge, she says.
But it won’t be measured by applause.
“It’s so funny. I can’t wait to wear a mustache,” Melendez says.
Photo by Matthew Brown/The Journal News: Pelham Memorial High School students rehearse the Harmonia Gardens waitress number in their production of “Hello, Dolly!”
Where: Pelham Memorial High School, 640 Colonial Ave., Pelham.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Thursday’s performance is $12, $10 for students; Friday, Saturday and Sunday, tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Pelham’s senior citizens are invited free to the dress rehearsal at 3:45 p.m. tomorrow.
Call: 914-738-8110, Ext. 100.
With: Emily Abeshouse, Sarah Abeshouse, Hector Alicea, Monica Argentina, Ann Aust, Reeve Ballard, Marcia Bean, Niki Berino, Melia Bonomo, Julia Bullock, Irene Burrows, Connor Brown, Justin Brown, Nick Candido, Becca Carden, Megan Carden, Jameelah Carter-Smith, Angela Catalano, Christina Catalano, Frank Cerbone, Erin Cohen, Jen Corton, Jon Corton, Madison Darbyshire, Quincy Darbyshire, Alex DeSantis, Sarah DeYoung, Sophia DiVitto, Zack Doherty, Charlotte Donovan, Madeline Donovan, Eric Drucker, Shaquille Edwards, Lily Evans, Colin Fields, Julia Filemyr, Allison Focella, Chelsea Freeman, Andrew Gisandi, Selim Gjaka, Michael Heath, T.J. Heins, Laura Hickernell, Julia Holden, RaÃºl Jimenez, Justin Juliano, Eric Katz, Mara Kravitz, Romy Kushnick, Cristina Lang, Caitlin Leavey, Pia Levin, Katie Libby, Katie Lyman, Assefash Makonnen, Tebebe Makonnen, Jacob Martin, Morgan McDaniel, Jessica McElligott, Kristen Melendez, Anna Menon, Robert Myers, Katie Niedt, Paige Okotieuro, Joanna Orefice, Alice Osborn, Arshia Panicker, Liz Penberthy, Michael Plotycia, Andrew Rappo, Christina Ricci, Luke Roffman, Briahna Roman, Cyndi Roman, Nicky Rood, Nick Rouke, Sarah Schwartz, Jennifer Scopaz, Alliana Semjen, Bubba Sporn, Jonathan Stern, Ami Tian, Tristan Tiggleoven, Kathryn Tracy, Maura Tracy, Rita Treitman, Will Vandenberg, Chelsea Vander Putten, Gianna Viola, Alana Visconti, Kate Warren, Becca Weiser, Mia White, Campbell Whitford, Megan Wines, Jack Yost.