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Loretta Ables Sayre

Loretta Ables Sayre

In the fall of 2010, Loretta completed a two-and-a-half years run as Bloody Mary in the Lincoln Center Theater (LCT) revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. It was the first revival of South Pacific on Broadway since it premiered in 1949 and the longest running revival of an R&H musical.

She received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress and a Theatre World Award for her Broadway and NYC debuts in the role and performed Bali Hai on the nationally broadcast 2008 Tony Awards Preview Concert. The run concluded with a live, nationally-televised PBS production of “Live From Lincoln Center; South Pacific.”

Loretta made her London and U.K. debut in late summer 2011 in South Pacific at the Barbican Theatre and appeared in the production’s U.K. tour in cities across England, Scotland and Wales.

The official Broadway cast recording of LCT’s revival of South Pacific was nominated for a Grammy Award. The CD, featuring her performances of “Bali Hai” and “Happy Talk,” is available on Sony Classics.

She also is interviewed in the documentary, “Passion, Prejudice and South Pacific; Creating an American Masterpiece” on the 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition of the 1959 movie South Pacific.

The focus of this page, however, is Loretta Ables Sayre and Hello, Dolly! 

When she was young, she remembers seeing Carol Channing perform the Hello Dolly number on TV shows and being interviewed by people like Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. She was glamorous and exaggerated and fabulous and Loretta remembers being enchanted by her. Then years later the movie came out with Barbra Streisand and she remembers all the dancing men and Streisand's gorgeous dresses. Loretta also remembers seeing and hearing Pearl Bailey perform a few of the songs on TV and loving how sassy she was.

Loretta saw Dolly in NY with Donna Murphy two summers ago and  says she was brilliant.  Of course at that time Loretta had no idea that she would be playing the role a year later.!

Was Dolly Levi a bucket list role for you?
Being of Asian and Hispanic descent, and being raised in Hawaii, I never thought the role of Dolly Levi would ever be a role I could play or that would ever be offered to me. I have never seen anyone of color besides Pearl Bailey perform the role. As lovely as the character was to watch, it never dawned on me that someday I would be able to stand on a stage and get the chance to play her.

How did your production come about?

Diamond Head Theatre here in Honolulu is my hometown theater. The last production they did of “HELLO, DOLLY!”, was in 2004. It is a favorite our Director of John Rampage (Artistic Director of Diamond Head Theatre). When the recent Broadway revival was playing, John saw it 6 times. When he came home from New York, he called me and told me that it would launch DHT’s 2018 season and that he wanted me to play Dolly. I was floored! Knowing that it was such a huge role, I had my reservations. But John was steadfast in his support and I figured if he believed in me so much, I should believe in myself and after much thought and prayer and discussion with my husband I said “yes!” And this marvelous journey began!

Had you seen any other actresses play Dolly (either in The Matchmaker or Hello, Dolly!)? Your thoughts on each

I had seen Shirley Booth in The Matchmaker and I thought she was wonderful!! There was such an honesty and quirkiness about her. It was such a great reminder that back in the late 1800’s women were not taught or expected to have a life or career outside of the home. A husband and children were supposed to be enough. Now being a childless widow, Dolly had to survive by any means that she could and that made an impact on me. She was a survivor with a huge heart. And she was filled with hope.

What do you think you brought to Dolly that made her uniquely yours?

I tried to find her spontaneity and honesty every show - or at least that is what I was striving for. I tried to keep her alive and crackling every night. I tried to remember that even in her moments of manipulations and machinations, she was not expecting to find love again. She had already had great love in her life. She just didn’t want to be alone and she wanted to be happy and that’s what she wanted for everyone. Plus, I am not a petite woman so I brought my curves with me! I think it was important to portray her as a woman that an audience could relate to. I mean after all, not every woman in the world is a size 2 perfect piece of red headed dynamite like Bernadette Peters!!

What was the biggest challenge for you as Dolly?

To stay in the mindset of women in the late 1800’s and not to respond to her as a woman in 2018. To remember what her life options were at the time. To find her desperation and her folly. To find the nuances of her vulnerabilities and her strengths. To keep her optimism. The only way a woman could survive in those days was to find a man of means who could “take care of you”. Which is quite different than the way we expect women to take care of themselves now.

What one thing did you learn about yourself as Dolly that you think will remain with you?

The biggest impact on me was that Dolly shows us that we create the joy in our own lives. We choose who and what we want in our lives. We can wallow in our grief or we can celebrate the good. Dolly loves laughter and food and champagne and music and dance and everyone around her loves her. We make choices daily, hourly, that affect us and those around us. Why not choose joy? I will always take her joy with me.

Final thoughts on Hello, Dolly!

I’m so lucky to have been able to do a production of Hello, Dolly! And see the effect it has had on so many people. The joy and laughter it brings to audiences. The impact it has upon widows. So many women came up to me after the show to tell me that they were widows and the show moved them so profoundly. Hello Dolly made people forget the challenges of the country and the world and made them feel and laugh and cry. It had the ability to allow people to escape and to relate at the very same time. The audience came out singing and dancing and joyful and we were so proud to be a part of that.

What is it about Dolly that you would want the audience to take with them?

I think what I would like the audience to take with them is that like the show, our lives are filled with hope and love and joy if we choose it. No one gets through life without having our hearts broken from some kind of loss. We all have to take time to grieve and then choose to move ahead. Ephraim may be gone, but Dolly decides that companionship, someone to share a meal with, to dance with and to hold your hand is still a lovely thing to have in your life. We should never give up on love. We should never give up on hope. Like Ephraim, Dolly believes in life and anyplace you can find it and in that case I think that there really is a little bit of Dolly Gallagher Levi in every one of us.