Michael DeVries (Cornelius Hackl, 1995 Broadway Revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing)
Michael DeVries grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He went to the University of Washington. He majored in vocal performance. His desire was to be an opera singer. His first professional gig was with Santa Fe Opera where he soon learned that he didn’t really like performing opera so he got into musical theater.
He moved to New York from Southern California in 1984 with his wife and started doing theater in New York.
His first big show was in 1986. That was the revival of Carousel at Kennedy Center. He played Mister Snow. His first Broadway show was Cats in 1988. Other Broadway shows include Grand Hotel, Secret Garden. He did several National tours including Phantom of the Opera. He did a tour of My Fair Lady that went to Japan. He was doing a tour of Phantom when the opportunity to go to Paris with Hello, Dolly came his way. It would bedirected by Lee Roy Reams and featuring Florence Lacy as Irene Molloy and starring Parisian entertainer Nicole Crosille as Dolly Levi.
The French version of A Man and a Woman was her claim to fame. This was done in the winter of 1991 and 1992. Lee Roy had personally asked Michael to audition for this production. Michael can’t really recall how he happened to be on Lee Roy’s radar at the time. Getting cast and doing this production was a fabulous experience for Michael. He had a great time. Nicole was phenomenal in the fact that English is her second language. Michael applauds her for taking on an iconic American role. She did a very credible job. She was much more of a nightclub performer than an actress. She didn’t quite have the levels of the connection that Carol Channing had to bring to the story.
Much has been written in these chapters and interviews about what it was that Carol Channing brought to Dolly. Carol Channing is a one of a kind performer. She was able to be bigger than life and yet hit everything in “our world”. She managed to bring her persona to the character without affecting the story telling or taking away from the story telling. Michael says he has never worked with another star of Carol’s caliber and pedigree. “Carol Channing is the biggest star I have ever had the pleasure of working with”, Michael says. She is also a legend. He can’t think of anyone who measures up to her in terms of people that he has worked with.
The only other production of “Hello Dolly” that Michael had seen was the firstnational tour in ‘66 with Carol as Dolly. It came to the Shubert theater in Chicago and Michael went down from Grand Rapids with his parents to see it. He says it was spectacular. Coincidentally, the first stop of the 1994 tour (after they teched and opened the show in Denver) was Chicago at the Shubert theater!!
When they were getting ready to do the Broadway production starring Carol Channing in her final stint as Dolly, Michael was brought in to audition for Jerry Herman in his gorgeous apartment on Central Park West. After getting cast, they did the show for twenty months before arriving on Broadway. They did not lose one cast member through that entire run. It was an incredible friendly loving cast. They had great cities. They had a ton of fun on tour.
They enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Michael enjoyed it so much that he was incredibly saddened by what he, as many other cast members feel, that the show closed prematurely. Luckily for this Company, a decision was made to record this production as Cast Recording. To be able to record this score and give Cornelius more of a singer’s take rather than a comedian’s take was a huge honor for Michael. He feels it gives justice to Jerry Herman’s great music. Cornelius gets to sing a couple of the best songs in the show as far as Michael is concerned.
With all due respect to Charles Nelson Reilly, Michael DeVries is a much better singer. Part of making Michael’s Cornelius more real and less of a cartoon lies in the fact that he had really great people to work with. Cory English was his Barnaby and he was such a personable young man. He and Cory created their own world together on stage.
As long as they lived in that world, it felt like that was where everything was happening so it never felt like they were commenting on the material. Also having Florence Lacy as his Mrs. Molloy was pretty wonderful.
They worked well together and they stayed honest with each other.
The show did speak to Michael on a personal level.
Everyone has fallen in love at one time or another. He found Cornelius’ naiveté somewhat similar to his own approach to life. Michael is not a cynical or jaded personality. Cornelius acts on his impulses and he does not bring a lot of baggage with him, so he felt that Cornelius was a wonderful kind of avatar for who Michael DeVries was at the time.
The experience of being part of the 1994 tour and Broadway revival was Michael’s first real chance to build an arc of a character. He had done major roles before but to work with Carol Channing under Lee Roy Reams’ direction was a chance to build a character and see the storyline straight through to the end of the show. He feels like Cornelius actually travels the farthest in this show as far as personal development. It was a real challenge in terms of making it real and keeping it real, not going overboard and over the top and trying to tell the story every night. To do that for two years was a real learning experience.
Carol and a few of the Broadway Company continued for an additional three month bus and truck tour. Michael did not go on with the show. Lee Roy Reams once again took over as Cornelius. Michael had done the pre Broadway tour and once arriving on Broadway that was the cherry at the top of the cake.
The opening night on Broadway was of legendary proportions. It was the most spectacular experience that Michael had ever been through. The crowd was just electric. There were four standing ovations during the show. To go on beyond that, to Michael, would have been anti-climatic. Michael didn’t feel a need to go out on tour.
The fact that Hello, Dolly is still being done around the world almost fifty years after its Broadway premier is pretty impressive. There are many shows that have come and gone that most people don’t talk about anymore. Michael feels that the directorial take on Dolly, the cinematic take, of the storytelling,ie there are no blackouts, scenes move fluidly from one scene to another, also add to the success of Dolly. As of this writing, Michael is in Wicked on Broadway. That show also has a very cinematic approach to the storytelling. Emotionally, Hello, Dolly has a story that is universal, the love story and the coming of age story.
The music touches people. It is a story that will continue to be told.
As of this writing, it has been twenty years since Michael took his final bow as Cornelius Hackl on Broadway.
At this point in his life, Michael connects more with Dolly’s character than Cornelius’! As one gets older, one starts to see the choices that are made and how that has affected the rest of one’s life.
Michael is grateful. He is married to a woman that he has been married to for almost thirty five years as of this writing. When he thinks about the possibility of losing her as part of the natural progression of life and death, he marvels at the way that Thornton Wilder and Michael Stewart captured the ongoing love story even when one’s partner is not there. Hello, Dolly has something for all ages.
Looking over the arc of his career, he can imagine having not done Hello, Dolly, but his career would have been much less fulfilling than what it has been because of this chapter of his life. It was really a highlight for him. It is the biggest role he has played in a Broadway situation.
Once again, to record the score was a real blessing. He is incredibly grateful that they got the chance to make a new recording of the show and that he got to sing this music. It is preserved forever. That was a really important part of the entire proceedings for him.
The lowest point was when the closing was announced. He felt that the show deserved to have a longer life. It was a very sad moment.
That was January 28th, 1996. After twenty months on the road, it closed after eleven previews and one hundred and sixteen performances.
Hello, Dolly was a huge experience in Michael DeVrie’s life. Because of the recording, it will exceed him. It will live past his time here. He loved playing Cornelius.
They created a great world that he got to live in for almost two years.