Jane Lambert: Chorus, Pearl Bailey's 1971 Tour of Hello, Dolly!
|Jane Lambert today|
"The path to success is to take massive, determined action."
Pearl Mae Bailey received a special Tony Award for the title role in the all-black production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968. In 1971, she took it out on the road with Cab Calloway as Horace Vandergelder and Marky Bey as Minnie Fay, Damon Evans as Barnaby Tucker and Nat Gales as Cornelius Hackl.
One of those wonderful chorus members of this1971 tour of Dolly was Jane Lambert!
Jane Lambert's experience with Hello Dolly was formative.
Although she basically left the Theater after the tour, she had discovered that she was to be singer and not an actress.
It was an important lesson to learn at an early age. She went
on to sing jazz, working in clubs and concerts and using her theatrical training for commercial and voiceover work. She became a teacher of singing.
When her health began to fail,she left singing and worked her first “real” job as Music Department Chair at a small arts college in Seattle. She was at the college for 12 years and she left that position to manage her husband’s career and produce his albums and run a small record label.
She was an officer on the Board of Trustees for the Recording Academy (Grammy’s) for 10 years where she concentrated her work on MusiCares and the social service needs of her fellow musicians. It has been a great life to make a whole life in music. Like working in the theatre it is a tough road but a fabulous one.
This is Jane's story...
When Jane got her Equity card, there already WAS a "Jane E. Lambert".
OUR Jane's theatrical stint in Dolly was a chapter unto itself.
After Dolly, she made the rest of her career as a singer. Jane was a mere child when she appeared in Dolly. She was nineteen. She had four years under her belt at the Brunswick Music Theatrein Maine, now the Maine State Theatre. There was a time when there were MANY resident summer stock theatres.
Most of them have gone the way of the drive-in movie theatre, meaning no more.
These theatres, as in Jane's case, offered an extraordinary education in all aspects of theatre.
They would be rehearsing one show during the day and performing a different one in the evening.
The next week, everything would start anew with a different production. Jane was already in college when she was sixteen. She went on from there to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Jane is a native New Yorker and grew up in NYC.
Now, she lives in Seattle, Washington, birthplace of the original Dolly, Carol Channing.
In the spring of 1971, Jane had her Equity card and was going out on auditions.
Jane had not seen Dolly prior to auditioning for it. It had been running on Broadway since 1964. Jane had been to many open cattle calls in which there were hundreds of people auditioning. Interestingly enough, that wasn't the case regarding her audition for Dolly.
It was relatively small. She simply responded to a notice in Back Stage, the theatrical trade paper.
She went with a friend and they each did their audition. They both got called back.
Miss Bailey wanted to see them.
They lined everyone up by height. Jane was basically six feet tall. Her friend was five' two". They were going
to cut one of them because Miss Bailey wanted her assistant to go on the tour and be in the company.
Jane got to stay and her friend got cut. Jane was lucky to get cast. She realizes that her height would have been a hindrance to getting jobs as a Broadway chorus singer in the end. She doesn't feel that she would have had much success.
After getting hired, Jane was called into Mr. Merrick's office. He welcomed her to the company. He wished
her luck, shook her hand, and she signed a contract on April 14th, 1971.
She KNEW that this was a big deal for a nineteen year old to be in his office.
She feels that she was in there all of two minutes. He had a very powerful demeanor and quite memorable.
She never felt intimidated by him. Because of her age, she was very excited by the entire experience. This was all very new to her.
|Cab Calloway backstage (Photo courtesy: Jane Lambert)|
This was a National tour after Miss Bailey and Cab Calloway's run on Broadway.
The production of Hello, Dolly! featuring Pearl Bailey opened on November 12, 1967 and closed just before Christmas in 1969.
Miss Bailey referred to this tour as the first "mixed company". She was very proud of that and talked about that a lot. Prior to that, things had still been pretty segregated.
The tour was just a few months. Miss Bailey spoke to the cast before they embarked on their tour.
At the time, they were working with the State Department to take the tour to Russia, which would have been part of detente at that point, and other places.
Miss Bailey was so proud of having a mixed company.
None of that happened, unfortunately.
This tour did, however, lead to the end of Jane's theatrical career. Period shoes had been made for all of the cast.They went to a cobbler and had these shoes built individually. They made Jane's shoes too narrow and she ended up having to have an operation when she returned to New York after the tour. For long periods of time, they were up on the stage on the balls of their feet in Gibson Girl poses, like statues for long periods of time.
Miss Bailey's assistant saw Jane limping horribly one day. She also was six foot tall.
Her casting is one of the reasons Jane was cast.
She motioned for Jane to come into her dressing room. She had a box of Carol Channing shoes! The three of them were size elevens so she gave Jane a pair of Channing shoes for the rest of the run. That gave Jane SOME comfort. The tour was all through the summer of '71. It was a thrilling time for Jane. They played Toronto, Chicago, LA, and many other cities. This tour DID NOT play the South.
|Pearl Bailey was married to jazz drummer Louis Bellson for 38 years.|
Jane did not experience or see any type of prejudice aimed at the country.
Miss Bailey traveled seperately and stayed at fine hotels, the Parker House in Chicago, for example.
She had a large entourage with her. Louie Bellson would meet up with the tour from time to time, obviously when he wasn't working.
They adopted a child, Tony, in the mid-1950s, and subsequently a girl, Dee Dee J. Bellson, born April 20, 1960.
The children were with them as well. (Both have since passed on).
The cast was always given several choices as to where they desired to stay and the costs. Groups would congregate together. Jane stayed, for example, mostly with the other singers.
Jane had no relationship with Miss Bailey off stage. She kept a distance. The company was instructed to call her Miss Bailey. From time to time, company members would be called into her dressing room over the "squawk box." The stage manager would say, "Miss Bailey would like to see everyone in her dressing room after the show."
Everyone would line up and go in one at a time. She would give everyone a gift. She really wouldn't make conversation with the company at that time.
They would get an autographed picture or a trinket and in and out. Her album at the time, Pearl's Pearls, was one of the gifts.
According to Jane, Cab Calloway was "absolutely fabulous"!
He was more accessible to the company. He would take them out after the show. He liked to take the "girls" out.
They would go out to eat.
He took Jane to her first jazz club in Chicago. Eventually, Jane became a jazz singer. That was an important moment in her life and so much fun. He was so full of life and a great entertainer.
He was funny.
A lot has been written about Miss Bailey's infamous "third act" in which she would perform what sometimes turned into a 45 minute version of her club act! This was after a two and a half hour show!
The entire company would have to stand behind her in wool costumes! On top of that were these huge hats and wigs sometimes made out of horse hair!
During the "third act", Cab would wander around and make jokes and try and make the chorus girls laugh and get them into trouble.
|Press event in Chicago
L-R: Jane, E.B. Smith, Press person, Jonathan Wynne, Press person?
He would perform as well. If Louie was on the tour with them, he would sometimes be in the pit, but he would play. It could go on forever. The rest of the company had to stand at attention.
Otherwise, she would call them out and give them a hard time.
If there were entertainers in attendance, she would call them up on stage to perform.
One of the stops on this tour was the MUNY.
At the MUNY, they had a short tech through and not a full rehearsal. The MUNY is a much bigger stage than what the company was accustomed to.
Blocking, of course, had to be adjusted.
Some set pieces were rolled on with wheels. This stage also has a slight raketo it. The first night, set pieces were rolling over and rolling down the stage and exposing electricians and the underbelly of show business. Miss Bailey was fit to be tied.
After doing the Hello, Dolly number, which is a very exhausting number for the dancers, this after the Waiter's Gallop, she had them do it all over again! The audience was response was so great, she said, "You like that? Want to see it again? One more time!"
It got the same response and they did it AGAIN! (Three times!) By the time, they finished it the third time, Miss Bailey HAD the entire audience!
|Jane in Yellow|
The theater seats 11,000 people with approximately 1,500 free seats in the last nine rows that are available on a first come, first served basis.
Miss Bailey had that entire audience as if she was appearing in an intimate thirty person night club.
That night, the third act was endless. She was going to make sure that she had every single person and she did. She was brilliant.
That being said, Jane learned a tremendous amount from Miss Bailey on what it takes to be a great entertainer, the way she worked an audience. She didn't quite have the audience that night due to all the mishaps.
A cat even ran out on stage! It was just one of those nights and she was upset and her rhythm was off .
It was a valuable lesson in what it takes to be a great entertainer that Jane has taken with her throughout her career. Jane had not set out to be in musical theatre. She hadn't even planned on being a singer. She wanted to be an actress.
|Jane's 1969 Headshot|
That's what she had studied to be. What Jane got from watching Miss Bailey was the whole process of how to work an audience AND entertain them within the context of the material, and yet she took them OUT of the material.
Jane has no solid memories of her work with director Lucia Victor. She recalls working mostly with the musical director.
Their rehearsals were first mostly with the singers and then with the dancers. There were a couple of rehearsals with the entire company and then they were on the road. Getting Dolly on the road was down to a science at this point.
The musical director was also responsible for Jane being in the company.
When they were all brought out on stage and lined up, tall to small, Jane could hear that they were discussing whether or not she was too tall. He said, "I need her voice to beef up the men."
Jane had a big voice.
He fought for her. Jane heard the fight.
LA was the last stop.
|Before The Parade Passes By from the 1969 film version|
She got on the plane to return to New York and the in flight movie was Streisand's Hello, Dolly!
Jane admits that she doesn't love the movie.
Jane never worked with Gower Champion but she did meet him once. He came to the first performance of the tour. He was very pleasant to the entire company.Along with these memories, the beautiful voices still sing loud and clear in Jane's mind. The voices seemed very contemporary. She feels that the sound of the movie is very "controlled" which may be a reason why she is not a big fan of the film.
Jane doesn't think that microphones have helped anyone on Broadway. She actually thinks it is kind of appalling.The voices are no longer being developed enough to understand and utilize the space vocally. In the old houses, they were built acoustically to accommodate the natural voice. Amplified voices are not as beautiful in those houses. Jane was taken to the theatre first when she was five years old in 1955. Her grandmother took her to see My Fair Lady. Jane remembers vividly wearing her little white gloves and white patent leather shoes. She held her grandmother's hand and they walked into this sacred space that was all gilded and it took her breath away. Again, she was all of five years old! That whole magic of the environment of the theatre came along. This was followed by the voices, what used to be called "Ethel Merman" voices.
After the tour of Hello, Dolly, while Jane was recovering from her surgery, a friend came over one day and said, "We're going out to Oregon to visit a friend. Would you like to join us?"
She wasn't able to go out on auditions anyway, so she got in the Volkswagen bug and they were off and away.
She went to the North West and stayed!
It was all because of Hello, Dolly and shoes.Who knows what path Jane would have taken if those shoes
weren't too small!
Personally, on a side note, there were other reasons why Jane decided not to pursue a "theatrical" career. Very early on, Jane got to experience first hand, what we all work for in the theatre, to be in a successful run of a show and being able to work every night on something that has been set. Jane's previous experience had been more of the "work" of the rehearsal and putting a show together process and doing that over and over in repertory. A totally very personal thing that Jane discovered that she preferred the idea of constantly making new work. That led her to being a concert singer where she had control over what she was doing. Being able to do Dolly at such a young age helped her to define what she was really supposed to be doing and wanted to do with the rest of her career.
As another positive, what an extraordinary experience for a nineteen year old to be able to have! She dreamed it and she desired it from the age of five and she traveled the country with a TRUE entertainer!