Larry Raben (Cornelius Hackl in HELLO, DOLLY! Pittsburgh CLO with Victoria Clark as Dolly Levi, 2004)
Connections are everything in this business. Larry Raben had worked with director, Glenn Casale (known for reinventing the musical Peter Panwith Cathy Rigby), before.
In 2004, Larry was in New York doing The Producers as Leopold Bloom on Broadway. Pittsburgh CLO was mounting a production of Hello, Dolly! Glenn recommended Larry. At that time the
artistic director was Ben Kaplan who Larry had worked with at Casa Manana in
Fort Worth, Texas.
It was a nice convergence of people that Larry knew that said he would be great for the show. They brought him in.
He played Cornelius Hackl opposite Jacquelyn Piro Donovan as Irene Molloy (she has gone on to do two major productions of Dolly AS Dolly at North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts and North Carolina Theatre in Raleigh, North Carolina).
She is currently starring in Closer Than Everin New York and will also be
appearing in the upcoming Kathie Lee Gifford musical. Most recently, Jacquelyn appeared opposite Gary Beach (as Horace Vandergelder) at North Shore. She is a wonderful
actress. At Pittsburgh’s CLO, there Dolly was Victoria Clark. She was brilliant. You could not ask for a better voice or a more grounded actress.
Victoria Clark was an absolute dream to work
with. She had a twinkle in her eyes at all times. She is warm, creative, and inquisitive and playful and she set the tone in rehearsals from the top on
down. It was exciting to be in a room with her and Glenn. It was a wonderful
rehearsal room. During rehearsals, Victoria told everyone that afterward, she
was going to be working on a workshop of a new show in New York called The Light in the Piazza. It had been picked up by Lincoln Center in the fall and it was very special to her and would be a very limited run. She was hoping that the company would find their way to New York in the autumn to see it. The rest is history!
Lee Roy Reams, Carol, Jerry Herman, Bill Bateman (Photo courtesy: Bill Bateman)
Larry also played in The Matchmaker in college, as Barnaby Tucker. He has always been fascinated
with the story. He thinks the original script is witty, charming, and hilarious
He knows that Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart stayed true to the original source material. He had wanted to do the musical since doing the play in college. After doing the musical, Larry’s respect for both the play and the musical increased. Being able to sing those great songs AND having those great monologues, he realizes that there are not many musicals crafted in that fashion.
He has more respect for the piece and feels that it is truly one of the GREAT musicals of the American musical theater. He wishes more artists will take a look at how it is constructed and use it as a template.
Veteran performers/ life partners Larry Raben and David Engel
At Pittsburgh CLO, they had a six day rehearsal period! They then went into tech and opened on day eight. If he had a chance to rehearse the piece again, Larry would go in completely off book. He would like to have as much
time to explore as possible.
Larry feels that Clark would certainly sell tickets in New York. He thinks she would be quite brilliant. He would love to see Jean Smart play Dolly. He did a musical reading of Paper Moon with her. She did the Madeline Kahn role. He feels that smart is an undiscovered, underutilized musical talent. She is a brilliant comedienne as we have all seen on TV. Her theatrical instincts are unparalleled. She also has a wonderful voice. He also thinks Joanna Gleason would “kill it”.
Larry absolutely feels that Hello, Dolly is in the top five productions of his career.
Since Larry’s first experience with Dolly was through Wilder’s play, he had that in his back pocket. It informed how he approached the role. It was text first. He is born and bred in the Midwest.
Although, Barnaby and Cornelius are from Yonkers, there is a real Midwestern sensibility to these characters. There is an innocence that has to be at their core. These guys can’t play “at it.” They have to embody guys who have dreams of the big city who have not gone there. Larry has seen people do the show where they play it “cutsie” or they have played it, “Aw, shucks” or kind of hay seedy. Larry feels they missed the point. These gentlemen are not “simple”; they are just not versed in love and in city life and the experiences that come with that. It is wonderful to take the audience on that journey of discovery, as you watch these men experience New York and fall in love all in the course of one amazing wonderful day.
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Once Hello, Dolly show opened, it ran from July 20th to August 1st, two weeks.
Larry absolutely continued to “tweak” his performance after the show opened. That was one of the great joys of getting to work with Victoria Clark. Steve Vinovich was a great Horace Vandergelder. Michael McGurk, (who played the same role at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia), was Barnaby Tucker. He has gone on to do a lot of tours and other Broadway shows. It was a wonderful cast of inquisitive, playful people and the exploration kept on going.
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Larry really loves working comic moments. He thinks
of it as taking a single hair and trying to slice it. You try it as many different ways as you can. Larry likes to try a slightly different approach. At the same moment, you keep the integrity that was rehearsed, to see if you can’t nine a little something extra from a slightly different angle.
When Larry embarked on this production, he did not know Victoria Clark and he was also coming off of The Producers on Broadway. He understudied Matthew Broderick and played the role a lot. It was a very good time for Larry. He was in a real career ascent. After Dolly, he moved back to California. Doing the show was part of a process of playing those quirky guys in their thirties who get the girl. He has gone on to play the David Hyde Pierce track in Spamalot and Lt. Frank Cioffi in Curtains. It is an arc of these kinds of characters that Larry feels that he was born to play.
Playing Cornelius is a great feather in his cap.
From Vickie Clark, Larry learned amazing stillness. She
really held the audience with truth and a wonderfully understated good sense.
She has an ability to find in her stillness amazing humor. At first glance,
that might have passed by too quickly. He has studied that and he has taken it and used it. He thanks Vickie for that.
In the script, the characters are always talking about adventure. Every character in the piece needs to shake up the situation that they are in and their needing to ride back into and invest in the human race.
It is such a simplistic but an amazingly deep-felt truth that we all have that.
All of us at sometime just need to close up the store and go on the town for a
day. We need to open our minds and our eyes and our hearts to a chance at love again, to re-invest to the world around us and the people around us.
You can really feel the audience take that journey with these characters.
Larry’s worst experience in Dolly happened during a performance when he literally stepped out a shoe at the end of Sunday Clothes. It was during a big movement pattern across the stage. There was a lot of body slamming taking
place! It was very embarrassing, but ultimately funny. When those moments happen, you just make big comic gold out of them. At the moment that it was happening, all he could think of was the fact that he lost a shoe on stage.
He had a horrible thing happen when he was doing The Matchmaker. He was playing Barnaby . At this particular theater, he and Cornelius had to be pre-set before the house opened.
There was no entrance to the pit and they had to come up through the cellar door. They
were in that pit every night from about seven twenty five until they made their first entrance around eight PM. Cornelius and Barnaby would just be down there and they would play cards. It was a “desert
coffin.” At the time, at the slightest provocation, Larry’s nose would start
bleeding. One night, they were rough housing down below while the show was
going on. “Cornelius” knocks Larry’s nose with his elbow. He bled for
twenty-five minutes in a cream colored suit under the stage with no tissue,
trying to figure out how to get it to stop before he made his first entrance.
He made his entrance with a little sniffle.
He had managed to clean up the bleeding with his socks. He and Cornelius
run off stage after that scene and have a minute costume change before reappearing in the hat shop scene for the next half hour. They hide, “Cornelius” in the wardrobe and Larry under the table. By the end of Act One, Larry had blood pouring down his face and all over this “ice cream” suit that he is wearing as he is trying to romance Minnie Fay. It looked like a horror show.
Larry has also seen Carol Swarbrick play Dolly. He saw her do it in San Diego. She was incredible with a big brassy voice, big hearted. He imagines watching her was a little more like watching Ethel Merman. She had a big presence with a wonderful sense of humor. She was amazing.
Larry saw Carol Channing do it. Two years ago (2010) at age eighty-nine, Channing performed the Ephraim soliloquy into and including Before the Parade Passes By. The specificity with which she approached both the monologue and the song were spellbinding. You could hear a pin drop. You realized you were truly in the presence of greatness.
Glenn Casale is an amazing director. He knows every moment of the show before he even starts working on it. He knows every lyric, every line, and every bit of text. He approaches it as a whole piece. He is all about character development and the arc. He has an amazing sense of comedy and a great sense of humor, especially in a very short rehearsal period. He loves approximating for you, with a real natural laugh, where the laughs are likely to be in the show. Glenn prides himself on giving the actors a very realistic rhythm of the show, how things are going to play and where you’re going to get those laughs.
It truly is a gift.
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Larry remembers Glenn at the first rehearsal discussing the show with the cast. He remembers him mentioning how perfectly and seamlessly
the show is written.
There is nothing extraneous in it. Glenn encouraged the cast to really take this text and be open to it. There is more information in this text than most musicals have, the character nuances. He encouraged the cast to find it and celebrate it and be specific with it. Glenn loves the show.
Larry can say he has happily never seen a Dolly that missed
the mark. That would truly break his heart.
Jerry Herman’s sense of melody and song construction is a quintessential sound of the great old Broadway show tune.
Those songs in Dolly
seem to flow effortlessly out of the moments.
The lyrics all further the
characters and the plot. They are just gorgeous moving melodies. A song as simple as Dancing is just a gorgeous waltz. It is one of the “lesser” tunes in the show, but a gorgeous piece of writing. It doesn’t get any better than Before the Parade Passes By or It Only Takes a Moment. They are just great classic Broadway songs.
When Larry was in high school, he changed high schools. He went back to the high school he had previously gone to, and they were doing Hello, Dolly! It was the first time he saw the play and heard the score. It was enchanting.
Playing Barnaby and Cornelius, Larry put his own stamp on the characters. How to quantify that, Larry doesn’t know. When he did Hello, Dolly, he had seen Channing do the show as well as the production he had seen in high school. He likes to be a detective with the text. He likes to see what the author and lyricist had to say about the person and the situation. Larry just tries to find his own quirk in that situation. There are other wonderful men who have played Cornelius Hackl. Larry is friends with Will Mackenzie, the second Cornelius on Broadway in Hello, Dolly, after Charles Nelson Reilly. Will played it with Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, and Betty Grable. Larry considers himself in the same mold as Will. They are both comic actors with strong voices. They have discussed this. Neither approached the role as a singing role.
It wasn’t about the vocal production of the role. It was about this unversed
person from Yonkers, about his heart filling with love and having this adventure. That informs how he sings the score.
Steve Vinovich, as Horace Vandergelder, was a great cool actor. When Larry saw Steve and Vickie do the table scene, he KNEW this was going to be a great Dolly. Prior to that, Larry had seen Vickie play the busybody in Second Class. He knew she had a wonderful voice and a good sense of comedy. His initial thought was that she was too young to play Dolly. That quickly changed. With Steve and Vickie, you really wanted to see these two people have a second go at love.
Larry’s overall experience of working at Pittsburgh’s CLO was fantastic. They treat you really well. The show came and went so quickly. They had recently had a twenty-five million dollar renovation prior to Dolly. The theater is in the center of town. It’s a gorgeous old house of a theater. The organization is really well supported by the community and by their arts programs. Pittsburgh is a great city. There are private clubs along the river. There is a great sandwich with coleslaw and pastrami. It’s a famous miner sandwich. Lunch breaks were short so the miners could get back to work as quickly as possible and everything was thrown on the sandwich. It was a really good time. It made Larry long for more summer stock. It was Broadway boot
They used a lot of Carnegie Mellon and
Michigan kids there and some CCM to fill out the ensemble and they were there
for the whole summer. In the chorus was a young and very talented Nick Adams.
Dolly to Larry Raben is the ultimate adventure on stage. There are great
characters and an amazing score. It is a fully realized journey for each and everyone on that stage.