Monica M. Wemitt
Monica has actually done several productions of Dolly over the years, but the one we are going to focus on is Carol Channing’s last Broadway revival in 1995. It also happens to be the production in which Monica made her Broadway debut…as Ernestina Money (and Carol’s standby). It was a very exciting time for Monica. She remembers standing on stage and thinking, “Oh my God! All my dreams have come true. “
Her mom was in the house and her best friend, Dan LoBuono, was standing right behind Carol. She was standing there with Carol and it was “just amazing”.
Monica’s agent had sent her in for it and she was hoping that it would come to fruition.
Lee Roy Reams was very instrumental in terms of getting Monica cast. Carol was looking for someone very tall, very “lanky”, and very “character-y” looking. Monica says she was an “over weight pretty woman”. Lee Roy liked Monica’s reading and felt she could fit the bill.
Lee Roy pretty much cast the show although Carol had the final say. Lee Roy has a really good eye for casting. He cast the whole show beautifully.
The tour started in 1994, opened at the Lunt-Fontaine Theater on October 19th, 1995 and closed on January 28th, 1996 (116 performances). Monica has never seen a production of Dolly! outside of those that she has appeared in. She feels that this was probably one of the best things she has done in her career.
She said it was a magical company. She says it wasn’t all hearts and flowers. When you work with a company, it becomes a family. There are ebbs and flows as there are in any family.
For the most part, no gossip here, everyone got along. There is nothing that she didn’t like about this production. The high point is that she made her debut. She was in her forties.
Early in the run of the tour, one night Carol “went up” on her lines. It was in her first monologue at the top of the show. Monica is standing right next to her. Monica, of course, knew them having been part of this scene for the past six weeks. She went completely blank. Monica fed Carol a cue line. Carol said, “Yesss, Thank you very much Ernestina”, and went on with the monologue. Monica’s first thought was, “I’m screwed. I just lost my job.” During intermission, Monica was called to Carol’s dressing room. She is shaking. She knocks on Carol’s dressing room door and timidly says, “Yes, Carol?” She is thinking “How fast can I get out of my dressing room without the ultimate humiliation?” Carol said, “I just want to thank you for helping me out. Now, you can go.” Monica really thought she was going to be fired!
Monica’s overall thoughts on Carol Channing is that she is a totally generous human being. She was so great to this company on the road and Monica said she learned so much from her.
She learned about pleasing the audience. “It’s not about ‘you’. It’s about making sure that THEY have a good time.” They don’t NEED to go to the theater. They need to pay their bills. They need to go to work. It has always been very important to Carol to give her audiences what they are paying for. “A night of entertainment. Some sort of escape from the doldrums of the ‘every day’.”
The late Jay Garner, who played Horace Vandergelder, was according to Monica, “the funniest man who ever walked the face of the earth. He was a curmudgeon, but sweet and a nice, nice man.”
She said there just isn’t enough that she could say about him. Of course, they spent a lot of time alone together in that booth during the Harmonia Garden scene. He kept her entertained by regaling her with silly little stories about his day, card games he had played, any nonsense that came to him. As the guys would come around to peek behind the curtains, he would, in character, shoo them away.
Monica’s opening night on Broadway was an amazing experience. She had three best friends in the audience. Paul Sportelli, who is now the musical director of the Shaw Festival, David O’Brien, who is now the production stage manager of the tour of Wicked, Ron Lord who was the musical director for the Carousel Dinner Theater at the time. Her mom, once again, was there, as well. She was making her Broadway debut with all these people she loves so much. Her friend, Dan, was also making his Broadway debut the same night. They looked across at each other and they each had a single tear trickling down their cheeks. So many in that company were making their debuts that night. Monica says you can’t even imagine what that felt like and the ovations of the audience that night. When Carol made her first entrance, Monica says she has never felt that kind of energy ever again in the theater. She still gets goosebumps thinking about it.
Lee Roy Reams, who directed this production knows what he wants and gets what he wants, according to Monica. “You never feel incompetent with him.” He brings out the best and he does it with so much humor. He also has a trunk load of stories. “I have no idea how old that man is but, by God, he is like the energizer bunny. He just keeps going.” He has this amazing energy and he has a hundred projects going on all the time! Those of us who are lucky to get his Christmas letters know what I’m talking about.
Lee Roy can be summed up in “Great warmth, great humor, and great love.” He knew what Carol wanted and that’s exactly what was delivered. Once the show opened, it was frozen.
Monica says her favorite memory of the show is the friendships she created.
She is still friends with many from that company till this day. Michael DeVries who played Cornelius remains a good friend. He brought such an innocent charm to Cornelius. He is a well versed, well educated man, but beautifully “innocent”. His soul is beautiful and he brought that to his role. He never “played at” being bowled over by the beauty of Mrs. Molloy. He embodied it. There was no pretense about it at all.
Kim Montgomery, who understudied Florence Lacey as Irene Molloy, is also a good friend.
The one thing that Monica took from this show that she has carried throughout her career is that no matter how “silly” a show may feel or seem on the surface, they all have a point to them. There is a reason for being. It is the actor’s job to make it real to the audiences, to make a song a monologue rather than a song. It is the job of the actor to convey the intent of the creators.
Monica’s thoughts on Jerry Herman: A lovely man. He invited the entire company over to his house for lunch. They were all like children in a museum running all over the place. At some point someone asked to use the bathroom. He instructed them to go down the hall. Since someone was already in there, he told them to go upstairs through his bedroom to his bathroom. The person, upon coming back downstairs, said on the QT to someone, “You should see his bedroom! It’s beautiful.” Jerry overheard this person and said, “Everyone upstairs!” Everyone was upstairs in his bedroom and on his bed.
“It was one of the funniest things I ever saw. I love this man so much. He was such a kid. You would think that he would be so hoity toity with the successes he has had. He is so down to earth. A great great man.”
In most shows, accidents happen. Such is the case, as well, with this company. One night, Michael Devries and Cory English in the Hay and Feed Store were coming out of the cellar with “Out there, there’s a world outside of Yonkers”, he tweaked his neck and was out of the show for a while. Jim Madden, his understudy, went on for a while and did a wonderful job. That happened on the road, but Michael was able to return to the show and bring his Cornelius to Broadway. Dan LoBuono, one of the “waiters” rolled his ankle and was out of the show for a few weeks.
The cast album was recorded in Prince’s studio in Minneapolis. Monica said when she heard those musicians play that score in the confines of that space, she burst into tears.
The biggest change Monica has seen since she opened on Broadway in 1995 is the expense of seeing a show now. She appreciates the unions but it is so expensive to put on a show now.
Tours are not the same. It’s now half-Equity and half-non-union.
As joyous as opening night was, closing night was equally sad. No body wanted it to close. Tarzan was already scheduled to come into the Lunt-Fontaine Theater. They were still selling out. It is the nature of the business.
Now, about Carol’s curtain speech. Monica hated it! Especially on those two show days! Everyone is SO TIRED and they had to stand there and smile while they waited for her to end that speech. The audiences loved it, however. Monica thought, “just grin and bear it”!
(Editor’s Note: Monica returns to the role of Dolly in August 2017 at the Mac-Hayden Theater in Hello, Dolly! (August 24-September 3).It’s the first weekend of the final summer show at The Mac-haydn Theatre, 1925 state Route 203, Chatham. The musical “Hello, Dolly!” gets its 13-performance run into full swing with shows Friday, Aug. 25, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 26, at 4 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 27, at 2 and 7 p.m.Founded in 1969 by Lynne Haydn and Linda MacNish, The Mac-Haydn Theatre has been bringing artists from all around the country to the town of Chatham, NY (perfectly place in between the Berkshires, the New York Capital and the Catskill Region) each summer to produce classic and modern musicals in-the-round. For more information and tickets, please visit www.machaydntheatre.org or call the box office at (518) 392-9292. )
Hello, Dolly! at The Mac-Haydn Theatre.
August 24 – September 3 (See Promotional video)
Updated August 26th, 2017