While COVID may not have fully disrupted Logan High School’s theater productions, director Jared Rounds thinks their current show, “Hello, Dolly!” will be a welcome sight for local audiences.
“It’s just fun,” he said. “Coming out of a 19-month global pandemic, it’s nice just to come sit in a theater and be thoroughly entertained.”
There’s no doubt the musical comedy classic is a crowd-pleaser. An immediate hit on Broadway in 1964, the original show won 10 Tony Awards and ran for 2,844 performances. The 1969 film adaptation netted three Academy Awards, and the play continues to have steady run of productions, from high school to Broadway and everywhere in between.
“Hello, Dolly!” is a fit for more than just the current moment. Logan’s theater program isn’t extracurricular, meaning students audition for the class in spring, then re-audition for the actual production once school starts. Having the pool of students squared away lets Rounds tailor the choice of musical to the various skills and quirks of the group.
“Looking at the types of students we have, I can decide a little bit more easily what type of show we will do,” he said. “We have so many fantastic girls that I thought, ‘This is the right show.’”
Musicals are a collaborative marriage of dozens of artistic disciplines, from acting and singing to stagecraft, music, choreography, and more. “Hello, Dolly!” is particularly demanding in a few ways.
Rounds handles the costume design — a “huge” part of the musical, which takes place at the onset of the 20th century.
“It’s a very specific look — lots of dresses, lots of hats, lots of plaid,” he said. The costuming for the play has become iconic; a gown from the original Broadway run is kept in the National Museum of American History.
The dancing for “Hello, Dolly!” was developed almost entirely by Logan’s head choreographer Colie Peterson and assistant choreographer Elizabeth Needham, with some inspiration coming from previous iterations of the musical.
“As far as dance style, there’s a lot of waltzing, there’s a polka dance, and the classic ‘Hello, Dolly!’ dance, which is all of the men in the show, and they’ve all done such a good job with that,” Peterson said, noting how pleased she was with how well that choreography worked out. “I feel like the audience loves a number where it shows all of the boys doing something at the same time, because it’s pretty impressive that those high school boys can learn a long dance like that.”
Peterson said the hardest part of the job is finding space for and organizing the players in the physical space of the stage. “Hello, Dolly!” in particular posed some tough logistical problems when combining dance with the story.
“In this show a lot of the dances are transition numbers from one city and they’re traveling to another city so you kind of have to make it look like they’re going somewhere,” she said. “One of the scenes, they’re on a train, but we don’t have a train — so we kind of made it look like a train with the students and with their parasols and canes. We just had to be creative with that.”
Those decisions are made in tandem with the other moving parts of the play, but Peterson said she’s fairly free to realize her vision.
“A lot of the time, Elizabeth and I will come up with the idea, and before we finalize it in our choreography we reach out to Jared, and he OKs it — if we can have all of the things that we picture,” she said, but “he always says yes.”
As for the music, Logan’s productions have a live pit orchestra accompanying the show, a feature “not all schools have,” Rounds said.
The ensemble, made up of orchestra students and a handful of professional musicians, faces a very different challenge from traditional orchestra performances — a test of both subtlety and endurance.
“A good pit orchestra, we’re heard and noticed, especially in the overture, but then when the play starts you want the attention to go on the actors and on the stage,” orchestra director Rachel Wheeler said. “I keep telling my kids, we want you guys to disappear.”
The length of the show is also a major adjustment for students.
“When we’re preparing an orchestra concert, we have four different orchestras at Logan High and we just play two to three songs a concert,” Wheeler said. “This is two hours of music that they have to prepare. It’s a lot more music in a short amount of time to just kind of cram through.”
Due to the difficult nature of musicals’ complicated keys and rhythms, the professional help can ease the burden on the student musicians.
“We have five adults that have come in just this last week to really supplement and help those woodwinds and brass parts, because it’s hard music. The strings have to be able to handle it, but the woodwinds and brass, it’s tough stuff,” Wheeler said. “They’re side by side with the high school kids — it just helps them and kind of tutors them along with reading rhythms and getting those kinds of things.”
The novel skill requirement and the chance to play alongside professional musicians mean there are plenty of unique opportunities for students to learn and improve.
“I have one student that said, ‘This has helped me so much; I just play so much better because of this’, and I said, ‘Yep, you do,’” she said. “Because it just puts their feet to the fire and makes them work.”
All that collaborative work amounts to what Rounds hopes will be an effortless audience experience.
“You don’t have to think too hard about it, you can just watch it and look at the pretty costumes, listen to the great singing and the fun little story that goes along with it,” he said. “I like to call it a cupcake: it’s just sweet.”
Logan High School’s production of “Hello, Dolly!” began its run on Friday and has showings on Nov. 20, 22 and 23, all at 7 p.m. Tickets, available at loganhigh.org, range between $7 and $9, with discounts for students.