Ann Miller as Dolly Levi – Kenley Summer Players.
Johnnie Lucille Collier, better known as Ann Miller (April 12, 1923 – January 22, 2004) was an American singer, dancer and actress.
Ann appeared as Dolly with the Kenley Players in 1971. “John Kenley added a tap number for Ann Miller in ‘Hello, Dolly,’ ” said Patrick Quinn, a former president of the Actors’ Equity Association and a former employee of Mr. Kenley’s in Ohio. Mr. Quinn spoke in an interview in 2006, the year he died.
I am somewhere between the ages of 11 and 14. It’s a typical Northern Ohio summer. Grass to be cut. Walks to be swept. Pinecones to be thrown at my friend Mark in our afternoon game of ‘pinecone wars’ - played until there was either blood or someone came an inch short of losing an eye.
Eyebrows to be knitted over the future of the immediate neighbors – Mr. and Mrs. Biggs. Old beyond comprehension. Sitting for hours at a time on their front porch. A wave was about all I’d venture in their direction. I didn’t dare engage them further. They spent so much time watching me play in the front yard – surely they knew my every secret and, if a conversation were to ensue, they might be tempted to ask, ‘So, what’s with those ‘jazz hands’?’ and I would have to admit that I was destined for a life in the world of music and theater – not something a boy could be particularly proud of in the mid to late 1960’s in Middle America. Any neighborhood awareness of my love for the musical theater would, no doubt, put an end to pinecone wars with Mark, whose Mother was ever vigilant in her raising of a 100% red-blooded American MALE.
She had already told Mark that I was ‘too silly’…code for ‘the boy most likely to beg his parents for a ticket to the Kenley Players straw hat production of HELLO DOLLY starring Ann Miller!’. She was right, of course, and eventually I was banned from her property and from going anywhere near her son. He cried harder than I did. But tears dry. I lived (there’s nothing thicker than the skin of a 12 year old boy who loves the musical theater) and continued to consider the highlight of my week to be the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Arts section where I could read all about the exciting world of Cleveland area THEATER. ‘ Round about March or April, the Kenley Players (an Ohio/Michigan summer theater circuit produced by John Kenley) would announce their upcoming season. On the heels of the announcement came the weekly vertical advertisements with the logos of the shows and the names of the stars.
There it was on the schedule – HELLO DOLLY one week only starring ANN MILLER!’ My parents succumbed to my hounding and made it a special outing for the whole family!
I couldn’t tell you who else was in the production. The program was left in the attic in my box of memorabilia when my parents moved across the country while I was in my last days of college.
I can tell you that Kenley Players HELLO DOLLY was, to my eyes, a tremendous spectacle and a far cry from my first experience of professional theater – the National Tour of HAIR – the tribal love-rock musical – seen when I was 11! (What WERE my parents thinking – the fight over the binoculars left SCARS!).
I remember being convinced that I, one day, would play Barnaby or Cornelius.
I remember color – lots of it – especially red! I remember Ann Miller’s sassy way with the comedy. The biggest thrill of the night – I can see it in my mind as I write this – was Ann Miller as Dolly Levi, aglow at the top of the stairs, greeted by the adoring staff of Harmonia Gardens and receiving a thunderous ovation from we summer soaked Ohioans. She descended the stairs, warmly greeting each and every fawning waiter…And then, at the bottom of the stairs, center stage, she yanked off her skirt and tossed it aside, revealing the longest legs I have ever had the privilege to see. THEN she proceeded to dazzle us with five minutes of heart stopping bravado and grace – a one-of-a-kind combination of flawless rhythm, perfectly coiffed hair, legs and floor. The audience leapt to their feet – ‘so THIS is what it means to ‘stop the show!’.
I am sorry that I don’t remember her performance in more detail. I can honestly say that the memory of Ann Miller in Kenley Players HELLO DOLLY fed my soul for years, drowning out a myriad of neighborhood bully Moms, junior high taunters and tauntrices and my own parents’ insistence that the musical theater could only be considered an ‘avocation’ in the future of a kid from Ohio.
-Memories of DC Anderson