ALENE ROBERTSON has spent much of the past twenty years terrorizing little girls in Annie, most recently at the Fulton Opera House, following the 30th Anniversary National Tour. In Chicago, she is a nine-time Joseph Jefferson Award recipient for the roles of Mama Morton in Chicago—The Musical, Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!, Lalume in Kismet, Miss Hannigan in Annie, Mrs. Lovett inSweeney Todd, Vera Charles in Mame, And The World Goes ‘Round and twice for Mama Rose in Gypsy. Alene made her Broadway debut in Annie and her off-Broadway debut in Annie Warbucks. She was last seen at the Marriott Theatre as the chain-smoking, piano-playing Jeanette in The Full Monty.
Alene Robertson has done six impressive productions of Dolly in her career.
Her first trip to Hello, Dolly, she played Irene Molloy.
She did one other non-union production of Dolly.
Those took place when she was younger and before she became a member of Actors’ Equity. She has performed Dolly in Cincinnati, Ohio. One was the Footlighters. One was in Lagrange, Illinois (that was the non-Union Mrs. Molloy). As she got older, she played Dolly twice at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire, Illinois.
She has done it in West Virginia at the West Virginia Public Theater. In each of these cases, they approached Alene because they knew of her work and reputation.
She admits that the first time she did Dolly, she thinks she sang it well and she got all the jokes, and she thought she was fine. The second time around, when she did it ten years later, she felt like she was much better. For one reason, she had ten more years of an actress’ experiences. She also had ten more years of life. She found Dolly’s vulnerability the second time around more so than she did the first time around.
It was more full bodied and well rounded the second time around. She got her MORE the second time around.
The last time Alene played Dolly was in ’97. If given the chance to do it again, she feels she would approach it the same way. However, she feels she is a much better actress now.
She has had people pass on that she misses tremendously.
She does talk to those people.
She knows that they are not physically with her.
She does know they hear her. She can relate to when Dolly is talking to Ephraim. She loves the character of Dolly. There are times in an actress’ life that she goes after what she is absolutely right for. Alene is also the perfect type for Mama Rose. She has the right vocal style, etc. With Dolly, it is so interesting because she can be played by so many different types of women. That role takes on the personality of whatever women plays her. All of the stars that have played Dolly are all very different. All of them were wonderful in their own way. If Alene plays again, she hopes to tap into the life experiences she has had since last playing Dolly. She hopes to play her many more times; she just hasn’t had the opportunity. She feels that her speeches to Ephraim would be even more heartfelt with what she has learned and experienced.
|Jerry Herman with the original Dolly, Carol Channing|
Alene did see Carol Channing play Dolly on one of her tours. It happened when Alene was working down in Florida. This was in 1984 in St. Petersburg/Tampa. “Carol is the originator and can’t be beat.” Alene vivid remembers her dining scene. At the time, Carol was sixty-three. Alene was also amazed at her energy. She was brilliant.
Then there is Barbra Streisand. Alene thought she was too young but her singing is incomparable. She has seen clips of Ethel Merman doing songs from Dolly on variety shows.
Alene first fell in love with Dolly as most people did, through the original Broadway cast recording, when one is just starting out as a teenager, listening to the Lps of those great classic Broadway musicals.
Her family had Gypsy, Annie Get Your Gun, and Hello, Dolly! She used to go down to the basement into the family room. There was a fireplace with a hearth. She used that as a stage. This was before she had any inkling that she was going to be a singer or an actress. This was long before high school. She was stand on that hearth and wail ALL of those diva roles.
The first time her parents ever saw her in a show, they were scared to death. She had never really sung in front of anybody. She did her number and they thought, She’s pretty good!” They had only heard her “hollering in the basement.”
She was hollering to Dolly and the other greats.
She used to perform You Gotta Have a Gimmick from Gypsy.
She would do it in the stripper voices and they couldn’t figure out what she was doing.
She remembers doing these recordings and doing ALL the parts.
She is the typical kid who loved Broadway musicals. Most of her friends in the theater, guys and girls, did exactly what she did…with a hairbrush microphone!
|Felicia Fields, Lauren Creel, Alene Robertson, Nicole Miller & Mary Robin Roth in Nunsense|
As a novice actress, she heard that a local theater group in Cincinnati was doing Dolly; she just had to be part of it. She never truthfully ever thought that she would eventually become Dolly. She went for it and got Mrs. Molloy.
It was not a very good production but she enjoyed it.
One thing that worked, it always does, is the title song.
It is the best number in the show. There is that special sparkle and the fact that whoever is playing this role coming down those stairs in a red dress is a STAR! It doesn’t matter if it is being done in a church basement in Iowa or on a bigger stage, when Dolly comes down those stairs with all of those men focused on HER, that’s it!
In an actress’ life, she might get glowing reviews. The one review, however, that she remembers word for word is the “clunker” she gets. It is human nature. Alene remembers the headline of that production, The Elephantine Side of Dolly! The review was referring to the mammoth sets and the chunkiness of this community theater production. The review also mentioned that Alene was neither old enough nor wistful enough to play Irene Molloy.
With all due respect to all of the directors who have directed Alene, one towers above all others, Dominick Missimi.
|As Miss Hannigan in Annie|
He directed her both times at The Marriott. There are several reasons that sets him apart. He is a true sense of the magic of Dolly.
The last production they did in ’95, flowers would pop up at various times in the production. The Victorian setting, this was in the round, was gorgeous. Dominick has directed Alene several times in her “big lady roles.”
They trust each other enough for him to allow her to take chances.
She has been accused of “pushing the envelope” from time to time. Sometimes, it actually pays off. He lets her go there. She tells him to pull her back if she goes too far. He is very trustful of her and she loves that about him. He is able to tell her which line reading he likes better and she trusts his choices. They get each other. His wife, Nancy, was also the costumer of the Marriott Shows.
The costume designs that she has come up with are incredible. She created all these great pockets for Alene/Dolly to be able to pull out her cards that she freely distributes. The audience was continuously amazed at where all these cards were coming from. She had one right at the beast level, for example, and people barely saw this sleight of hand trick. She had one on her hip. It was really fascinating. Dominick and Nancy are a wonderful team. Alene once again likes him because he lets her go before reining her in. She used to get a little frustrated with him because she felt she needed direction when he wasn’t giving in.
|Alene Robertson, right, with Becca Nicole Snyder in "Annie.|
Most directors like to get something on its feet before they hone in. She felt, going into dress rehearsal, that she needed him a little more. When she least expected it, he was right there. He knows how to put the finishing touches on things. She adores the man!
Alene never knows if she is going to be good at anything. She strives to do her very best and give one hundred percent and hopes that the audiences will love her and love the show. One thing does bother her about Dolly. When she comes BACK to the Harmonia Gardens after being away for “so many years”, why not get more older guys beyond Rudolph to be welcomed back by? Younger men are always cast and, yet, Dolly is normally cast by a woman of age.
|A YOUNGER Dolly, Barbra Streisand with Tommy Tune|
She’s been married and away.
Of course, these guys have to do the Waiter’s Gallop.
They have to be young and able to leap. They remember Dolly. “Did she babysit for them?” There is a problem there! It would be cost prohibitive to hire two casts to close that gap.
Alene never fooled around with the script. She learned that from Martin Charnin with whom she has done several productions of Annie and Annie Warbucks. One doesn’t fool around with the script. That doesn’t mean that any actor or actress can’t put their own take on it. There was one bit that developed the first time they did Dolly at the Marriott. Having the same director, it found its way into their second production ofDolly, also at the Marriott. Alene has since heard of people “stealing” that bit. They saw her do it and now it has found its way into subsequent productions of Dolly. It takes place in Irene Molloy’s hat shop as Dolly is teaching Barnaby to dance, “You’re next Mr. Tucker.” Barnaby starts to physically shake.
|Robertson's Miss Hannigan Belts Out Her Hatred of the Children|
The actor playing the role was very funny. Alene remembers going over to him during one of the rehearsals and walking over to take hold of him in the dance position. As she grabs hold of the shaking Barnaby, she begins to shake also. That bit remained in the show and audiences just ate it up. The plumes on her hat were just waving back and forth. Now people tell her they see productions of Dolly with that same bit! She doesn’t like that but what can you do?
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The Horace Vandergelder that stands out above all others is Joel Hatch who recently moved to New York. He recently appeared in The Adding Machine and Billy Elliot on Broadway. He did receive great recognitions for both.
Alene doesn’t know Jerry Herman personally but she loves him.
She loves his music. “He is what a Broadway musical is all about.” She has also done productions of Mame and loves his songs. In Chicago, Alene was part of a couple of recordings called Second City Divas.
They could choose whatever songs they desired to sing. The first recording was done in a studio. Alene Chose If He Walked into My Lifebecause she loves that song. She has never played Mame, only Vera. La Cage is another favorite of Alene’s. If one wants to call it old fashioned, OK. Alene LOVES it!
Alene was somewhat established locally before playing Dolly at the Marriott. She has a nice fan base. With Dolly, people got to see Alene’s truly feminine side more. She got us use her femininity and charming side. People were used to seeing her in these big brassy roles and funny characters and sidekick roles which she adores and is known for, the comedy. Dolly is a more gentle comedy.
The one thing that Alene learned playing Dolly that she has carried forward is underplaying.
Audiences love Dolly. Alene has never seen a production where the audiences don’t love Dolly. Dolly connives her way through life, but she does it in a charming loving way that audiences just fall in love with her just as Horace does at the end.
It is obvious that he is in love with her.
There are two brilliant actresses in Chicago, Paula Scrofano and Susan Moniz who have both played Irene Molloy with Alene. She loves them both very much. They both found what Alene didn’t find when she played Irene. They found that wistful determination. They also have tremendous voices. Paula also happens to be a friend of Alene’s and a wonderful actress. She has played many roles in Chicago.
There are also a couple of amusing anecdotes. On Alene’s piano in her home is a framed ad that ran in The Chicago Tribune. The first time she did the show in 1985, she was so thrilled that a full page ad of her appeared in a paper advertising a show she was starring in. There she is with her arms outstretched. It was around the holiday season and the typesetters at The Chicago Tribune were on strike. The ad copy read, in a neon arch type lettering, “Come see Hello, Dolly starring Alene Robertson…” and with the addition of one letter, she became a holiday threat for the entire family!
At the Marriott, it is in the round. There are these long aisles. During the Put On Your Sunday Clothes number, there was a full train that came on stage. It was propelled by people. Once it got on stage, the chorus started getting on it with their valises and it would go around and everyone was singing at the top of their lungs. The train would exit down another aisle. It would be exiting on, “You won’t go home till you fall in love.” Alene gets on in her long dress with her valise. She’s flipping out her calling cards from the back of the caboose. The company are pulling it down the aisle at a pretty fast clip. It’s not that they are over eager but they are keeping it in time to the music.
|(L-R) Alene Robertson ("Sister Mary Regina") and Chicagoland actress Mary Ernster|
She gets in and has to walk backwards up the aisles because she is in the caboose. It’s like that Streisand thing where she is standing on the back of the train in the film. The train of Alene’s dress got caught in the wheel. It was wrapping around it and she could feel herself being pulled down. People behind her were going “stop! Stop!” in the middle of the number. She was on the floor, fortunately, it was during a preview and the producer saw it happening. The crew manipulating the train could not see her. The singers are singing, the orchestra is blasting, and Alene is about to be choked to death. The theater is packed with 1500 people and the producer is screaming, “Stop the train! Stop the train!”
|Alene Robertson, Omar Lopez-Cepero and Kevin Earley, Pirates of Penzance|
The first part of the train was already out in the lobby. This quick thinking producer saved Alene’s life. It was a fright. From the beginning, Alene worried about that happening and it did! From that point on, she was a little more careful.
What were her dumplings in the Harmonia Gardens? Canned Pears!
Alene definitely puts Hello, Dolly in her top five list of shows she has done.
When a show is blocked, that pretty much will not change. Everything else gets tweaked as a show progresses. She is always finding things, new things, for example, that are funny.
As of this writing (in 2012), the last production of Dolly that Alene has appeared in was in West Virginia at the West Virginia Public Theater in 2000. She is waiting for someone to snatch her up again! In one word, Hello, Dolly to Alene Robertson is JOY!