Bobbi Kotula is a Theatre graduate from Penn State University, studied for her Masters in directing from Villanova University, is a fundraising professional, member of AEA and
SAG-AFTRA Unions, holds a teaching certificate, is an acting coach, enjoys bird watching,
and loves to cook.
She has garnered awards for her unique and detailed portrayals of many new and classic
roles in both the Seattle and New York theatre scene. Some of her favorite roles include:
Mrs. Warren (Mrs. Warren’s Profession), Molly Brown, Peter Pan, Dolly Levi (Hello Dolly), Miss Hannigan (Annie), Kate (Taming of the Shrew), Hildret Heinz (Iron Curtain), Golde (Fiddler on the Roof), Maggie (Lend Me A Tenor), & Mrs. Potts (Beauty & the Beast).
Her film & television credits include: 21 & Over, Norman, The Deadline, The Fugitive,
Amazing Grace among others.
Bobbi's approach to this production began with reading all of the source materials, reading what people said about the source materials, then reading the source materials again. She desired to understand all of layers of this script and score so as not to miss a beat, an opportunity for connection, or any small nuance.
She found Dolly to be a woman who has suffered a great loss in the death of her husband and is at the precipice of losing her ability to survive. She chooses to trust and believe in
life, anyplace she can find it. Even though she is destitute, she chooses to encourage and help others.
She moves through all of life’s challenges with humor, hope, courage,
and a bit of magic. What made her Dolly unique is her sense of mischievous play, her desire to manifest magic, and her compassion and love for others.
Playing Dolly Levi happened twice – once by an unfortunate circumstance and the
second by fortunate intent.
In 2006, Bobbi had asked to audition to play Dolly Levi in a production at one of the largest fully-producing professional theatres in the Pacific Northwest, Village Theatre. I was told
that they wanted me to play Ernestina and understudy Dolly. The actress they hired was
stellar and Bobbi was happy to be on call for her. Bobbi took the role of Ernestina, loved playing her, and had the surprising opportunity to play Dolly for the first time while in the middle
of the first act!
It was their second week of performances and Bobbi was singing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” offstage right and discovered our Dolly offstage left
trying to get Bobbi's intention by frantically waving her arms and pointing to her throat and then shaking her head. Bobbi realized she was trying to convey that she lost her voice. So I
took off to check in with our on-deck stage manager, was asked if I was ready to go on
and said “Yes, just be stage left with the book in case I go up on the monologues”. Bobbi was thrown into a costume and began playing Dolly that evening by entering Irene Malloy’s
Hat Shop. All went well and the audience & cast were incredibly supportive, but I felt as
if she was shot out of a cannon. She didn’t stop shaking for 3 days. Fast forward to 2019, Village Theatre asked her to play Dolly Levi in their 2020 production of Hello, Dolly!. But we all know what happened next. A pandemic shuttered theatres around the world. They had no idea if any of them were even going to survive.
I decided to use the time off from live theatre to study the role. I took isolated walks
while memorizing the long monologues and scenes. Bobbi researched the writers, the directors, the stars who played Dolly, and anything they shared about their productions. A friend shared a live interview with Richard Skipper that they found and I was so grateful to have that additional resource. That interview led me to the Call On Dolly
website which I scoured and devoured. I even found some friends who I’ve worked with
included in the collection!
I had three years to venture down Levi Lane. She became my constant companion and
her source of hope throughout the pandemic. Bobbi is grateful for her companionship during
a very dark time in all of our lives and was overjoyed to be asked again to play her in Village Theatre’s 2022-2023 season. They opened May 26th and ran through July 30th
The working relationship with Bobbi's
director was bliss. It was a collaborative creative process where all ideas were respected, tried,
honed, and celebrated. Several months prior to rehearsals, I invited our director,
Timothy McCuen Piggee and our choreographer, Kathryn Van Meter, to lunch for a chat
to discuss our version of the show. All three of us were passionate about this story.
We agreed it was about taking second chances and courageously choosing to step back into life. The theme of stepping back into life was one that our audiences needed
to hear. They had all been through a horrific time of isolation and Hello, Dolly! is the story
of one adventurous day in which multiple people choose to live rather than just exist.
Timothy directs by inspiring his actors with his vision first and then gently reminding
them to go deeper into the character’s emotional reality. He investigates how an actor
works and then trusts the actor’s process by encouraging them to go further with each
choice. An example of this is near the end of Act I when Mrs. Rose and Dolly Levi meet. It is usually a moment in the play that can get a small laugh and is thrown away, but Mr.
Piggee saw it as an opportunity to connect Dolly to her past and remind her, not only of what she’s lost, but the choice she has before her. He had Mrs. Rose & Dolly take the
moment to enjoy the reunion of old friends by having them sit together and reminisce so
that when Mrs. Rose needs to leave (a trolley whistle offstage offered that beat change),
she says that Dolly “hasn’t LIVED here in a long, long time”. That phrase reminds Dolly
that she hasn’t been living!
Timothy used those operative words in the script to spotlight the emotional journey. Mr.
Piggee is an excellent script analyst who trusts the writers and reminds the actors of its
power. Once Mrs. Rose departs, Dolly is left alone on stage and faced with the reality of
her grief, asks Ephram to “let me go”. But Timothy noticed that the audience needed
more time to understand the transition that was occurring and asked that I allow room
for the silence. Being vulnerable on stage is not an easy task for Bobbi, but Timothy knew
that I had the capability to open up, and with his encouragement, I allowed Dolly’s
brokenness to resonate in the silence. Some nights it showed up as a deep sigh, some
nights it came out through tears. It was a turning point in the show when the audience
became very still. I often heard sniffles and choked back tears in that moment. They
were with me.
In their production, the story telling was in all aspects of the staging. It was essential to
the story be continuous throughout. Kathryn is also a director so having the two of them
stage the play created a powerfully seamless production. Dolly is a generous woman
facing a steep precipice in her life. She has endured considerable grief and even though
she is industrious, helps others, & puts on a brave face, she is coming out of a
depression or as the script tells us, “my personal haze”. She chooses to be brave in order to survive her dire circumstances; she is “tired of living hand to mouth”. She steps
back into life “before the parade passes by” she has to “get in step while there’s still
In my research, I saw a photograph where Dolly is leading the parade, so at our lunch, I
asked that Kathryn build “Before the Parade” in such a way that gives Dolly a reason to
join the parade and not meander through it. Kathryn built the Act II closing number by
first having Bobbi exit as if she was heading to catch up to the parade that was “over there”.
She had the parade begin far upstage, then she incorporated all the supporting
characters’ story lines throughout the piece and at the rise of the climax, Dolly finally
enters the parade, strides to the front with a beautiful red ribbon and leads the parade to
the final note. It felt so empowering. It felt so right.
I trusted my director and choreographer completely and they in turn collaborated with
her ideas of her soul’s interpretation of Dolly.
Have you seen other productions of Dolly?
Describe your feelings with each
Yes, I’ve seen one live stage version with Carol Channing and watched the film with
Barbara Streisand plus having had the incredible gift of 3 years of waiting to play her, I
had the time to research online performances of so many of the greats. I used
CallOnDolly website as part of that research! I was surprised that some Dollys rushed
through the lines without allowing the audience to hear the operative words. It might
have been an off night when it was recorded, but it bothered me enough to remember to
carefully craft the story for each audience.
I saw Donna Murphy perform the opening number “I Put My Hand In” and was
completely mesmerized by her specificity and depth of character. Her Dolly must have
been brilliantly detailed and anchored in truth and connection.
She also did an interview
where she talked about Dolly’s transition during “Dancing”. Dolly witnesses people
falling in love while they are dancing. She’s reminded of how she used to dance with
Ephram every Saturday night at Harmonia Gardens. Her heart opens up and
remembers what it felt like to be alive and in love.
I found a clip of the title song with Sally Struthers as Dolly and I found her work so
warm and engaging. Bobbi took note of her individual relationship with each waiter and used
that specificity in our rendition. Connecting with each of those beloved actors was a
treat for me and I believe for them. At our closing performance, we were all quite
emotional in that our final Hello was really our Goodbye.
I saw that Ellen Travolta was on Call On Dolly website. As she is a friend of mine, I
gave her a call in the hope that she could share some of her wisdom. I was struggling with the part of the story that a woman needed to marry a man in order to survive with
some social dignity. Why would Dolly marry Horace? He was one of the most
misogynistic bullies in her community! Why would she choose him? Ellen played Dolly
opposite her late husband, the wonderfully kind and talented Jack Bannon. In her
portrayal, she discovered that it wasn’t for love that she first sought him out, but for his
However, as Dolly pursues Horace, she discovers his vulnerable and loving
side. The effect that Dolly has on others in her world is miraculous. She knocks down
the wall that Horace has built around his heart. He discovers that life without Dolly is not
worth living. Dolly realizes she can guide him towards being the philanthropist that he
was meant to be! Ellen’s advice was very helpful in getting over that obstacle in the
script. Michael Stewart writes the beautiful answer to Dolly’s earlier prayer to Ephram. She
asks him to give her a sign. When Horace quotes her late husband by saying, “Money,
pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless is spread around,
encouraging young things to grow.” Dolly knows she’s in loving hands.
Bobbi saw Channing in the mid-90s and she was captivating. Her incredible humor,
huskie voice, physical clarity, and unending joy are what stand out to me most. Near the
end of the play, there was a grand comic move she did while handing her card to
Horace Vandegelder that I desperately wanted to put into my performance.
Her long, lanky form was perfect for her movement of offering her card as a solution to
Horace’s balking at dancing at a wedding. She faced upstage, unfurled her arm & offered her card as the exclamation point. Bobbi's petite, round shape didn’t offer the same
comic effect, however, I did find my own move that brought the audience to the same
knowing laughter that Ms. Channing created.
What are your thoughts on working with
your Horace Vandergelder
I was very fortunate with my Horace. His acting, singing, and comic chops were stellar.
He has been a friend of Bobbi's for over 15 years so they had an instant history that made it
easy to rehearse and create with him. His skill level is extraordinary. His career has
taken him to Broadway, National Tours, and I feel incredibly lucky that he makes his
home in the Pacific Northwest. We trusted each other to craft the scenes in the best
way possible. We ran the show for 59 performances and continued to offer ways to
allow our scenes to change and grow and I love working with that kind of actor. We saved each other several times on stage when one of them stumbled over a line; he was a
Michael Steward wrote one of the most awkward transitions for Horace. Near the end of
the play, Horace has to discover that its not money or a young wife that he needs, its
Dolly. However, he is only given one word, said three times, to make that transition; the
word is “Dolly”. My Horace, Allen Fitzpatrick, shared the incredible emotional journey
that the audience needs to see to believe he cares for Dolly and he did it brilliantly.
Every evening I was in a frantic offstage quick change during his Three-Dolly-Transition
and every evening, I marveled at his ability to move the audience with his clear and
moving emotional arc delivery.
I was very fortunate to be able to play with a partner who had the perfect balance of skill
and playfulness. In one review, they said of his performance, “Allen Fitzpatrick is an
excellent Horace Vandergelder, grumpy and demanding, all of that belying a good heart that is waiting for the right person to come along and help him show it off.” – Heilman &
The story is well crafted: book scenes are paced well, each song moves the plot forward, the music is inspiring, and the characters are interesting and relatable. The
story’s message of rising above hardship and stepping back into life resonates in and
for any age.
Dolly was a dream show for Bobbi.
Bobbi would not have attended a large gathering where she caught Covid if she could go back. Even though she was masked, she attended the opening of a local production of Sweeney Todd that was held in
a theatre that seats 2,130. She admits that she should’ve thought about the odds.
We had just started our third week of rehearsals and I tested positive for Covid. I slept
for two days, then watched rehearsals for 7 days on zoom. I took notes, rehearsed
blocking and choreography in my living room while my understudy, the assistant
choreographer, and assistant director tried their best to be me.
On the 9 th day, I reviewed scenes in the studio with the assistant director and Horace
while staying masked and staying 6’ from everyone. On the 11th day, she tested negative
and was able to join everyone on stage for tech rehearsals. I never got to rehearse
Act II in the studio!
SIDEBAR: The assistant choreographer was wildly excited to dance my track and his
interpretation of the “Hello, Dolly” and “So Long Dearie” numbers were quite
illuminating! Bobbi stole some of his ideas and he loved it! (For opening night, she gave him a
boa and feathered hair piece as an honorary Dolly).
Since playing Dolly Levi, Bobbi's perception of the role has changed in that she now realizes she is one of the most beautifully written women’s roles in the theatre library and that her
funny bone is as honed as her loving heart. Her outlook on life is one that I want to
emulate. Even though she is on the edge of disaster, she approaches life with empathy,
kindness, faith, humor, & joy.
Bobbi continued to tweak after the show
There’s been an 'actor' missing from rehearsals – the audience! They are new at
every performance and they inform the cast members what is working and what is not.
Not every one of my castmates was comfortable with keeping things malleable, but my
Horace certainly was willing to do so. We both knew how to improve the situation in the
moment. If either of us had an idea about refining a moment, we’d discuss it beforehand
and try it out. It usually worked!
Second chances should be taken. is the message that resonates with Bobbi.
Step back into life.
I’d love to meet my Ephram someday.
Everyone needs a Dolly in their life.
What one thing do you think you have
learned from your involvement with doing
Dolly that you have taken forward in your
Having done Dolly and moving forward , Bobbi will trust that the joy she has is worth being spread around.
2. I can carry a show.
3. Leading a cast with forgiveness and joy makes for a vibrant & delightful
Bobbi feels that the major influence that Dolly has on audiences is inspiring joy, connection, and
encouraging them to keep on keepin’ on.
Having to shut down mid-run for 10 days due to Covid was Bobbi's worst experience with the show. It took a third of our
company. Once we were able to open again, many cast members found it
difficult to find the strength & stamina required to do 7 shows a week. For our last
3 weeks of performing, while onstage, the actors gave all they had to give for the
audiences, but backstage, it was difficult to witness the exhaustion they endured
for their craft.
2. A close second was when one of our ensemble dancers took a hard fall during
the waiter’s gallop and badly sprained his back. His adrenalin kept him
performing that evening, but his injury was severe. He was able to join us two
weeks later, but I know how a serious injury can damage a performer’s career in
seconds or come back to haunt them later in their 40’s.
Your thoughts on other Dolly Levis(s) that
you have seen.
I have gratitude for their choices and my good fortune to stand on their shoulders.
Please tell us about tailoring the show for
My director had enormous faith in my abilities to connect with audiences and trusted my
heart-led acting instincts and comic chops:
1. Improvising with the Audience Opening Act I – during our previews, I
instinctually began to improvise with the audience. I could sense that they
weren’t invested in what I was telling them. For example, when I said “As my late
husband, Ephram Levi always said, marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper
think she’s a householder.” I would listen for the temperature of the audience
and react accordingly, letting them know that we were listening to them as well
as they were listening to us. One night, our audience was filled with a women’s
group and their reaction to the householder line was a loud moan of discontent.
My response was, “Ah, I see that you’ve been there! Well, don’t worry, stick with
me, it gets better.” Their response was surprised laughter; I knew they were
sitting up now and leaning in. I was directed to be sure to keep the pace moving,
but I would react to what the audience was giving us so that they knew their
participation in the show was vital.
2. Silent Eating Scene in Act II – I had seen several Dollys eat during the dinner
scene with Horace and have a silent food bit after the polka mayhem where the
entire room had been arrested and were waiting in the courtroom. My director
and I knew that Dolly has been living hand to mouth for so long that she must be
hungry. We peppered Act I with bits of Dolly finding opportunities to eat:
Vandergelder’s Hay & Feed store had candies that I nibbled on or filled my purse
with and Mrs. Malloy’s Hat Shop had tea and cookies that I ate before “Dancing”.
I have worshiped at the church of comedy of Red Skelton, Imogene Coca, Danny
Kaye, Tim Conway, and Carol Burnett and I knew Dolly needed to gorge herself
at her favorite restaurant, the Harmonia Gardens. Watching Carol Channing do
her Silent Food Bit was a master class at stuffing paper dumplings into one’s
mouth, so I requested: dumplings, turkey bones, gravy, wine, and biscuits.
SIDEBAR: Since I wasn’t able to rehearse Act II in the studio due to my having
had Covid, our props team and directors set up the dining table outside the
theatre in the lobby hallway during technical rehearsals so we could work out
what props we needed and the arc of my silent food bit. I wanted it to build into a
climax of gastric delight that suddenly gets interrupted by prying eyes of the
The bit started off at 2 minutes and by the end of the run, grew to almost 3
minutes. Sometimes it was the laughter that made it longer, sometimes I
invented something else with the food at hand. Our stage manager timed it every
night and made sure that it always stayed fresh. The props needed were: Ten
marshmallow “dumplings”, One glass of white wine-colored water, One GF
muffin, One prop turkey bone, One bowl of GF gravy, and One napkin for sleight
of hand disposal. The night I lost the napkin was the night I ingested all of that
food. After that gut-jumping performance, I never again forgot to secure my
napkin in my front cleavage.
SIDEBAR: My sisters came across the country to see our production and when
they saw me do the Silent Food Bit, they said to each other, “that’s just Bobbi
doing what she did at the family dinner table!” Like I said, I worshipped at the
church of comedy of Skelton, Coca, Kaye, Conway, & Burnett and emulated
them since I was a kid.
P.S. I wrote a letter to Carol Burnett telling her of the night that I heard a lone 9-
year-old-giggler in the audience and realized at that moment that I just became
that kid’s Carol Burnett.
3. Key Changes. Carol Channing was a baritone. I am not. Thankfully, the theatre
hired musical director, Bruce Monroe, who is a highly sought-after orchestrator
for the theatre. Several months prior to the start of our rehearsals, he listened to
me sing every one of Dolly’s solos and found the keys that best suited my voice
and the emotion of the composition. I had an 18-piece orchestra playing for me in
my keys and it was glorious.
Your thoughts on Jerry Herman’s score?
Jerry Herman was in the right place at the right time. I’m glad he listened to his mother.
His music is so well suited to the characters and their emotional journey; he was an
expert at story telling. How could a 33-year-old write “Before the Parade Passes By”?
His wisdom was far beyond his years.
Jerry had an uncanny ability to write for women. His songs written for Dolly and Irene
are incredibly revealing pieces of woman’s inner most thoughts. The longing, the pain,
the frustration, and the courage needed to step back into life are vivid examples of what
it means to be a woman in this world. “Before the Parade” and “Ribbons Down My
Back” impart the realities of these women. My favorite song in the entire show, however,
is one that I didn’t get to sing, “It Only Takes A Moment”. It’s given to a male character
who has been encouraged by Dolly & Irene to, for the first time in his life, stand up for
himself and speak from the heart. It’s one of the most moving moments in the show and
we had a Cornelius that sang it beautifully.
The title song became an exhilarating moment in the show for us because the set up to
Dolly’s entrance was perfectly built. The audience has been delighted to see the three
sets of young lovers get to know each other, then they are surprised by the fast-paced
and profoundly funny waiters’ gallop, then topped with the sensual comeback music that
I like to call Dolly Gets Her Groove Back! I was happy to learn that during the 1964
creative rehearsals, Gower Champion (director of the orignial1964 production) asked
the rehearsal pianist to play a little something for Dolly’s entrance into Harmonia
Gardens. The pianist improvised a racy burlesque-like piece that was so effective that it
was incorporated into the score. Those were a few bars that Jerry didn’t write, but he
was wise enough to keep them in.
SIDEBAR: Another triumph of Mr. Herman’s is his telling of Mame with heart-wrentching
“If He Walked Into My Life” and then La Cage aux Folles with the show-stopping “Look
Over There”. Mr. Herman’s abiding love for the feminine spirit comes through in each of
these songs and they move me every time.
Describe the first time you heard the score
(if you can)
I believe I saw the film before I saw the stage version, so the scores are slightly
different, but the one song that I remember made an impression on me was “Dancing”.
Watching the lanky Tommy Tune and the gawky Michael Crawford joyfully dance with
their sweethearts made me happy.
Why do you think the HELLO, DOLLY
number itself stops the show?
It’s an emotional orgasm. As I mentioned before, the story’s well-placed build up before
the saucy entrance music and climactic dancing is part of the reason, but the main
reason the “HELLO, DOLLY” number stops the show is because the audience has been
eagerly waiting for Dolly’s rebirth into life and they are completely satisfied with the over
the top climax. I often say that singing is like sex. In order to have a satisfying climax,
you’ve gotta have some great foreplay before the big finish.
What is your fondest memory of your run?
Its difficult to pick the fondest memory, but here are a few listed in order:
1. A young person’s uncontrollable giggle. While performing my Act II Silent Food
Bit, a young person found my 2.5 minute physical comedy routine irresistibly
funny and giggled uncontrollably; it was a slice of heaven. I became their Carol
2. Opening night when the audience erupted with roars and applause at Dolly’s
entrance at the top of the stairs in Harmonia Gardens.
3. Laughing in the dressing room with two of my friends and favorite funny men.
Sometimes they would visit the ladies’ dressing room before the show make us
all laugh by just being themselves.
Do you recall any Pep talks from your
Before our first tech run through, our director reminded us to stay safe, to be kind, and
he quoted a phrase that I told him that morning: “It’s not about perfection, it’s about
At what point did you know with this
production had achieved its artistic goal
Opening night – the audience’s vocal roar and applause felt like they were almost rabid
Every review was a rave and were beyond what we hoped for, audiences filled our
theatres, and some patrons returned 3 and 4 times! We had one patron who held the
record at 11 times!
Would you like to do Dolly again, if the
opportunity should ever arise? YES!!
Add one question I should ask the next
person that I interview on this topic?
How has Dolly changed or influenced your life?
Who would you love to see play Dolly in the
Name one person you think I have
to absolutely interview for this project:
Our director, Timothy McCuen Piggee
A final statement for the project:
I’d tell this story a thousand times more because it’s the best way I know how to make
the world a better place.