Broadway’s Drama desk Award Winner Rachel York starred in Hello, Dolly! as Reagle Players’ entire summer season saluted composer-lyricist, Jerry Herman in 2009.
Rachel has great respect for Robert Eagle who has dedicated his life to keeping the Reagle Players alive when so many theaters are losing financing and closing. Bob continues to produce great shows when times are tough in the arts.
The Regal Players in Waltham, Massachusetts, decided to devote their entire season to the musicals of Jerry Herman. The fates came together and Rachel York became THEIR own Dolly Levi.
Rachel considers herself a “chameleon” actress and her resume proves it.
She has gone from comedy to drama to musical and back again. She has played a variety of characters throughout her career. That’s what keeps her ticking. Rachel earned a scholarship to the American Center for Music Theatre at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which prompted a move to Los Angeles. She began studying with acting coach Aaron Speiser. Mr. Speiser encouraged her to move to New York. He felt it was the best place for her to develop her skills and make her mark. She made her Broadway debut as Mallory/Avril in City of Angels in 1989. Her performance won critical acclaim. Since then Rachel has gone on to Broadway performances as Fantine in Les Misérables; Norma Cassidy in Victor/Victoria (Drama Desk Award) with Julie Andrews; Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel; Miss Fancy in Sly Fox with Richard Dreyfuss; and Christine Colgate in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Jonathan Pryce.
Off-Broadway, Rachel earned recognition, and a Drama Desk Award nomination, opposite Julie Andrews in Stephen Sondheim’s Putting It Together. She later earned another Drama Desk nomination for her deft portrayal of Ruth Sutton in the Lincoln Center Theatre production of Dessa Rose. Recently Rachel received rave reviews as Dorothy Shaw in the New York City Center Encores! production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She also recently starred in The Best Is Yet to Come: The Music of Cy Coleman, conceived and directed by David Zippel, librettist for Cy Coleman’s City of Angels.
Rachel has also made a name for herself on tour in the US and on the West End. She starred as Lilli/Kate in the national and London tours of the Tony Award-winning revival of Kiss Me, Kate and earned both IRNE and Helen Hayes nominations for her sparkling performance. She also earned a Carbonell Award for her critically acclaimed portrayal of Guenevere in the national tour of Camelot opposite Michael York. Most recently she created the role of the deliciously evil Cruella de Vil in The 101 DalmatiansMusical directed by Jerry Zaks.
That performance earned her a People’s Choice Award from BroadwayWorld.com.
Rachel York stars in The 101 Dalmatians Musical
Favorite regional roles include Anna Leonowens in The King and I(Philadelphia); Dixie Wilson in the Goodman Theatre’s world premiere of the Brickman-Elice musical Turn of the Century co-starring Jeff Daniels and directed by Tommy Tune; Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes (Ovation nomination); Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! (IRNE Award); The Witch in Into the Woods (IRNE Award); the Marquise de Merteuil in The Game, a musical adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses; Mother in Ragtime; Dorothy in Summer of ’42; Edith Herbert in My One and Only; Irene St. Claire in Crucifer of Blood with Billy Crudup; Eva Peron in Evita; and Cecily Pigeon in The Odd Couple with Jason Alexander and Martin Short.
In concert, Rachel’s numerous appearances include The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall; The Sound of Music at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of John Mauceri; the National Symphony and the Pittsburgh Pops under the direction of conductor Marvin Hamlisch; Broadway Showstoppers with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops; the San Francisco Symphony; the Detroit Symphony; the Minnesota Orchestra; the Utah Symphony; the St. Louis Symphony; the San Diego Symphony; the Colorado Symphony Orchestra; the Israeli Opera; and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
She has also performed her celebrated cabaret For the Love of It to rave reviews nationwide, including appearances at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency and the Metropolitan Room in New York, the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, and The Magic Castle in Hollywood. Rachel has also been a featured guest soloist in numerous tribute programs performing the works of Sondheim, Porter, Coleman, Gershwin, Wildhorn, Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Ahrens and Flaherty, Boublil and Schönberg, Andrew Lloyd Webber and many others.
Rachel’s film credits include One Fine Day, Billy Bathgate, Killer Instinct, Second Honeymoon, Au Pair II, and the CBS made for television movie, Lucy (available online at Netflix). Her performances in Kiss Me, Kate (filmed for PBS’s Great Performances series) and Victor/Victoria are available on video/DVD. Rachel has also appeared on several popular TV series including Hannah Montana, Frasier, Reba, Numb3rs, Close to Home, Arli$$, Spin City, The Naked Truth and Diagnosis Murder. In addition, she is the voice of Bitty in Higglytown Heroes and Circe on The Justice League.
Rachel’s debut solo album, Let’s Fall in Love, has been an enormous success since its release and was named one of the Top Ten Vocal CDs of the year by Talkin’ Broadway. She can also be heard on the soundtrack of Billy Bathgate, the live in concert recording of Broadway Showstoppers: Best of the Tonys with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, and the original cast recordings of City of Angels, Putting It Together, Victor/Victoria, The Scarlet Pimpernel Encore, Dessa Rose, Summer of ’42, and Opal, Honky Highway and Other Theatre Songs. A cast recording of the New York City Center Encores! production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondeswas released by Sony Masterworks Broadway in early 2013.
At the time of this interview, she is currently starring as Reno Sweeney in the National tour of Anything Goes.
Those are just a few highlights!
Whatever show Rachel is doing at the time happens to be her favorite show!
Rachel was born in Orlando, Florida, the youngest of four children. Her passion for music and acting was ignited at an early age as she listened to her mother sing and play the piano.
At 17, Rachel enjoyed her professional debut. She was cast in the singing chorus of a dinner theater production of Kiss Me, Kate.
In true Peggy Sawyer fashion, Rachel was asked to go on for the lead with very short notice and gave a wonderfully received performance.
Later that year, Rachel earned a scholarship to the American Center for Music Theatre at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which prompted a move to Los Angeles. She began studying with acting coach Aaron Speiser. Impressed with Rachel’s talent and dedication, Mr. Speiser encouraged her to move to New York. He felt it was the best place for her to develop her skills and make her mark. The actress who was scheduled to play Dolly with The Regal Players had to pull out. Rachel had never seen a stage production of Hello, Dolly before and had no idea how big the role was until she received the script five days before the start of rehearsal.
When Rachel was contacted to play Dolly, at first she thought she was too young to take on this character and then she found out that Carol Channing was in her early forties the first time she did the role.
Rachel thought she wasn’t too far off from that! It WAS a role that she was hoping to play at some point in her career. When the opportunity came her way, she thought, “Hey! Why not?” When it came to her, she believes it came to her for a reason.
She attracts the perfect role for her at the right time depending upon what she is going through at the time.
She was sort of at the place where Dolly is when the play begins, where Dolly is living within the confines of the show. She was dealing with the loss of a close family member. It was hard for Rachel to get back in the game again.
Dolly Levi is a role that most actresses in musical theater desire to play. That outside reason also attracted Rachel. Her only frame of reference, really, was that she had seen the Barbra Streisand film when she was a kid. When she read the script, she realized that Dolly was going through what she was going through at the time and it was a role that she could bring a lot of depth to because she had empathy for Dolly. It spoke to Rachel’s heart. She was living and breathing Dolly’s grief at the time.
When she sang Before the Parade Passes By, it had a lot of meaning for Rachel because she had lost her passion for living. This was before she brought her beautiful girl into the world. Sometimes it is really hard when someone close to one leaves to get back into the swing of things. When Rachel “attracts” a role, she feels that it is not only an education; it is very cathartic for her, as well. Rachel’s journey as Dolly was no exception to that rule.
Luckily, she was working with a wonderful and supportive group of people, and the experience and show turned out to be a great success. She says she can only wonder what she could do with the role with more than 10 days of rehearsal and eight performances.
Rachel was surprised that people thought she was perfect for the role! She won an IRNE Award (The Independent Reviewers of New England Awards).
It is a role that Rachel never would have thought on her own was a perfect role for her. It turned out to be a good fit for her.
When it comes to an age limit on Dolly, Rachel doesn’t feel that an actress in her twenties would bring as much depth to her. Dolly Levi is a woman who has lived a full extravagant life, and then, for a time, became a kind of a recluse.
She has been up and down and all around. There has to be depth and life experience to play that.
Jamie Ross played Horace and was a great co-star; Sarah Pfisterer played Mrs. Molly; Rick Hilsabeck, and Sarah’s real life mate, of Broadway’s Billy Elliot, played Cornelius; Danielle Naugler played Minnie Fay.
The rest of the company was incredible, as well.
Rachel says it was a joy working with director Worth Howe, and she owes a good deal of her performance to her good, Paul Reynolds, for helping her memorize her lines.
Hello, Dolly is a great number!
So much of Rachel’s time was creating and becoming Dolly and living in those moments on stage.
The first time she stood at the top of the stairs of the Harmonia Gardens for her descent, it was surreal. Everyone in the chorus looks forward to that number. It’s amazing how the audience loves that number so much. It is amazing how much the audience eats that number up. That was really amazing to Rachel. Talk about lifting someone up from the doldrums! Once she embraced that number, she just let it flow.
It became a beautiful thing because it was so much about Dolly’s return because she had been hiding out. The title number is a point where she “comes out” and there is so many acceptances. It is a beautiful moment in the arc of the show. The reason why Carol Channing was so perfect for the role and why it suited her so much is that she is such a positive person. Rachel doesn’t think she has ever heard a negative thing said about Carol.
Because there is so much love coming Dolly’s way in that scene, from the audience and also from the other actors on stage. That love is for both Dolly and the actress portraying her. It is almost as if they are reaching out to Dolly saying. “Come back to us! Come back to the world of the living again. ” That acceptance and enthusiasm and love are beautiful things for one to open their heart to and to relish that.
Not only did Carol portray Dolly who is deserving of all those things but it must have fed her in a way; it must have fed her spirit. That is why she rarely missed a show. Rachel doesn’t know how she did it!
When Rachel thinks of quintessential old-fashioned Broadway, she thinks of 42nd Street and Hello, Dolly, with those big production numbers. The arc of the 60s through the 80s epitomize a magical time of Broadway for Rachel. Hello, Dolly comes to that forefront.
Rachel would love to have the opportunity to play Dolly on Broadway.
Other than the movie, Rachel has not seen anyone else play Dolly. She was thirteen years old when she saw the film on TV. She really didn’t know what it was about. The funny thing is when she was a kid, Hello, Dolly was one of the first songs she sang, she used to sing it at the piano with her mom. That was the song they used to sing. It became full circle for her.
Rachel doesn’t feel that one would traditionally look at Dolly and say, “That is Rachel’s personality.” She transformed into Dolly. The part of Rachel that probably came out most through Dolly was the monologue preceding Before the Parade Passes By and the song.
This was a typical summer stock production.
They rehearsed for two weeks and performed it for two weeks. Doing a longer run will make any closing night ridiculously emotional. For Rachel, Hello, Dolly’s closing night found her at peace. Dolly gave her a little gift. As stated before, it was a cathartic experience and it helped her through a trying time.
Immediately following, Rachel’s thoughts was that she hoped to do it again and that this would not be the end.
Most actors over the course of a career study many techniques and end up using what ultimately works for them.
They bring so much experience AND Life experience to what they are doing.
with Patrick Dillon Curry as Ambrose Kemper
That affects how they approach a role and they intuitively go on a journey and find what they need to find. For Rachel, the core of her approach has to do with Dolly’s sorrow and her need to move on. She was in an in between place, a place between letting go and moving on. That’s how Rachel began and approached Dolly.
with Patrick Dillon Curry as Ambrose Kemper
That was the underlying theme for Rachel. Dolly loves bringing joy to people although there is not a lot of joy in her own life. Dolly is a character. Somehow, the lines and the period, and who she is just fell into Rachel’s body.
Dolly loves the work she does as a matchmaker and Rachel felt that. As an actress, Rachel just threw herself into Dolly’s world. She is an actress. That is what she does. That is what her mind, her body, her soul tells her to do.
Jamie Ross, Horace Vandergelder: BroadwayWorld.com
That is what her spirit is trained to do. When she gets on stage, and the lights go on, her body just goes into another realm. She is very much in her element when she is on stage.
Rachel visited Dolly Levi for a short time and had a great time. When she thinks of Dolly, she thinks of a wonderful wintery Christmassy afternoon tea. It’s a warm spiritual happy gift.
“Rachel York could not have a more commanding stage presence.” – The Boston Herald
“The role of Dolly is one of the great diva roles in musical theater and York owns the role. York is every bit as bold, brassy, funny and endearing as Dolly should be.” – Edge Boston
“York plays Dolly with a big, brassy, sexy air that fills the stage. York is fabulous, show-stopping, heart-warming and poignant. Delightful.” – Daily News Transcript
“The luminous Rachel York’s Dolly Levi is a stunner who takes charge and has both the ensemble and the audience eating out of her hand. She has innate comedic chops and shifts easily from silly to scheming to outrageous. By contrast, her moving version of ‘Love, Look in My Window’ shows us the woman’s wounded heart before she steels herself again and, with a look of wonder and conviction, boldly marches on ‘Before the Parade Passes By.’ From the moment she glides onto the stage, York is electrifying.” – Talkin’ Broadway
“Broadway sensation Rachel York is decidedly not your father’s Dolly Levi. She’s front and center from the get go. York is sassy, brassy, young, sexy and determined. She’s a juggernaut.” – Beverly Creasey, Theater Mirror
“Rachel York as Dolly has a fabulous belting voice similar to Barbra Streisand. Her rapid fire dialogue keeps you in stitches. She is one of the sexiest Dolly’s I have ever seen and her dancing is superb. Rachel entrances from start to finish, creating a Dolly to remember.” – Tony Annnicone, Theater Mirror
“Hello, Dolly! opened to thunderous ovations as Broadway favorite Rachel York reinvented the iconic role with her youthful exuberance and incandescent star quality.” – BroadwayWorld.com
Rick Hilsabeck as Cornelius Hackl and Sarah Pfisterer as Irene Molloy: BroadwayWorld.com
“Every song and every scene is pure joy, especially with Rachel York’s portrayal of Dolly Gallagher Levi. The multi-talented Rachel York glitters and glistens, like a multi-faceted gem. She wowed.” – Independent Newspaper Group
“Move over, Carol Channing. Step aside, Barbra Streisand. The new Dolly has arrived and it’s so nice to have her back. Rachel York, in a magnificent production, gives an outstanding performance that ranks with the best on Broadway.” – Preview TV