Home » Richard Leppig

Richard Leppig

(Cornelius Hackl, Dorothy Lamour Bus and Truck Company)

Richard Leppig
Prior to Dolly, Richard Leppig was scratching for anything
he could get in this business. He was working in the Greenwich Village for Jerome Irving Rodale (surname accented
on second syllable) (August 16, 1898 – June 8, 1971), was a playwright,
editor, author, and founder of Rodale, Inc. He
had a theater in which he produced psycho dramas. He did shows on health foods
and the effect they would have on you. 
Richard didn’t know anything about Hello, Dolly! except that it was a big
musical and beyond his horizon. In order for him to follow in Charles Nelson
Reilly’s footsteps, he would have to take chances and give it a shot.
Dolly began for Richard when he saw a listing in Back Stage,
the theatrical trade paper announcing auditions for the Martha Raye tour of Hello, Dolly to Vietnam in 1967. They
were casting for the role of Cornelius Hackl.
Martha Raye in Vietnam
The auditions were being held six
to twelve months prior to the tour beginning.
He did well in the audition and
it got down to between Richard and another fellow. When casting Cornelius,
depending upon other casting choices, tends to go one of two ways.
One is sort
of the Charles Nelson Reilly portrayal.
Charles Nelson Reilly
The other way is more of a rustic
country type way, like Will Mackenzie, who replaced Charles Nelson Reilly. At
the time of these auditions, Will was appearing as Cornelius on Broadway with
Betty Grable. Richard considered himself more of the Charles Nelson Reilly
type. Anyway, the casting went in the other direction, and that was the end of
About a year later, there was another casting notice for Dolly.
This time it was for the Dorothy Lamour national tour. Once again, Richard went
in. They remembered him and selected him.
Lucia Victor told him to go upstairs
and get a contract. It was “rainbow time!”
Richard already knew it was a big glorious show. He felt
that he was stepping out of his league with this. It represented everything he
thought Broadway was as far as a big splashy musical show. Making it to this
level was a dream come true.


His feelings about Dolly today are probably stronger than
they were forty-five years ago.
He appeared with an actress who was not a name
and she blew his socks off. Her name was Alison England. Richard was in his
seventies and played the role of the judge. Alison was brought up in a Hollywood
show business family. She knew how to take stage.
She has a great voice and is
also a great vocal teacher.
Richard does believe there is a future for Dolly, but
sometimes he gets a little depressed. It is a different type of music now. The
music of Jerry Herman and others of his ilk are mostly thought of now in a
historical context. When you allow yourself to witness this show, it will pick
you up and pull you along. It will convert people if they give it a chance.
When the Dorothy Lamour company was touring, they were
competing with the film company in Garrison, New York. They were losing a lot
of their dancers because they were being hired for the tour.
Their road pay
could not compete with a few days of shooting the film for several weeks. Many
dancers thought that that would be a better gig. Some of them had been attached
with Dolly for a long time.
Richard believes that Dolly was absolutely one of the top
five shows he was part of. Not only does it have great music, every song kind
of picks you up, it also has great comedy.
It has a core to it based on The Matchmaker, and going all the way
back to the original German source material.
People identify with it. It builds up your spirit, it has a great message
for people. It’s honest. Ray thinks it’s wonderful.
Changing Gower’s choreography is an iffy proposition. The
problem with choreography is that it’s like writing on water. The next
generation may recreate it, but it doesn’t have the crispness of just being created.
It has that core of vitality that people get to.
Richard considers Charles Nelson Reilly to be one of the

Alison England

great comic actors of all time. Richard brought his own personal timing to the
production. There are moments in the show where you can take advantage of your
timing. Richard wore the same shoes for the entire run. They began to wear out
towards the end.

On the bottom, the leather had come apart. There was one point
in one of the fast moving scenes where Richard’s shoe just slid on the stage.
His feet came out from underneath him and he did a complete fall on his back. He
could hear his Barnaby Tucker, Jess Richards, asking him if he was alright. He
got up. It was funny. Later, he thought he should have said, “I think I broke
my purse.”
Richard doesn’t even have a program of his days in Dolly
because “chintzy Jack Schlissel” who managed the road company from Merrick’s
office forced those in the company to buy a program. They were charging eight
bucks for this.
Richard was part of the Dorothy Lamour company from the beginning
in October 1967 through July 1968. They ended with a six week run at the Tinton
Hill music tent in Lambertville, New Jersey. Alas, this company never made it
to Broadway.  "This
is the closest I've ever come to an Academy Award. -Dorothy Lamour used to say during
her curtain speech for Dolly!
The blonde Dorothy Lamour
Richard continued to tweak his performance on
occasion but he says you have to be careful to do exactly what you were
directed to do. Lucia Victor did run a tight ship. He remembers the guy playing
Rudolph, Charles Scott, as they were flying out for their opening in Bloomfield,
Indiana saying to him, “Richard, as far as confidence goes you can do whatever
you want as Cornelius. 
You can pretty much get away with anything.” Richard was
worried about his dancing. He wasn’t a dancer. He thinks things have gotten
worse over the past forty-five years!
Richard’s favorite memory of the show is when
Dorothy as Dolly is teaching him to dance.
Richard’s career came to a standstill after Dolly. After
closing in Lambertville, Richard came back to New York and was auditioning.
Nothing was happening until he got a commercial within a couple of months of
completing Dolly.
It was a TWA commercial that ran that filmed for three days. Richard
was a principal in the commercial. He didn’t realize it at the time but the
commercial was a series of commercials. The director had written up story lines
for the characters.
 Richard was one of the story lines, but the thing is no one
ever told him that and during the course of after
Dorothy Lamour Company
the first commercial was
airing all over the television, including The
Tonight Show
, Richard had a falling out with his roommates. Around that
same time, Richard’s brother came back from Vietnam and suggested that both he
and Richard go back to college together. Richard moved back home with his parents
and he and his brother were going to go back to college together.
 In the
interim, the production house for the commercial called Richard’s old apartment
with the need for him to come in for the next rehearsal.
 The guy who was
Richard’s roommate never passed the information on to him. He never got the
call and he was effectively out of show business at that point. Twenty years
later, almost to the day, Richard went out to Los Angeles to see what he can
do on the West Coast.
 He admits that he is a very shy person and he didn’t have what it takes to
go knocking on agent’s doors. However, he ran across the agent who had worked
with the producers on the commercial for that production house.
He had answered
an ad for representation and they talked about what had transpired. It was just
an amazing ironic meeting.
The one thing that Richard learned from his experience with
Dolly is confidence on stage. Unfortunately, that credit did not advance his
career. When he got the part, he was part of a circle of young struggling
actors that included Morgan Freeman.  
would go on to play Rudolph in Pearl Bailey’s original company! He's done
rather well for himself.
Also, part of that group was Ellen Shade, a young aspiring
opera singer at the time. She was also having an affair with Richard’s roommate
at the time.
She was so excited about Richard being cast in Dolly that she invited
him to dinner to meet her parents. She also went over Richard’s lines with him
one by one.   
Ellen Shade
Shade had an
international career, but did not make many recordings. She was a diva at the
Santa Fe Opera House for a while. 
When Richard was living in Los Angeles, she
had become famous. He went to see a production of
with Ellen as the star. They went backstage and she didn’t
remember him! It ended up being sour grapes all around.
Dolly was the keystone of Richard’s career.
It gave him no
fear as far as understanding what he had to do on stage and the ability to take
center stage when he knew that was what he was there for.  Sometimes when he sees that point, he tries
to point that out without it looking like he’s pushing anything. That’s what it’s
all about. When you get out there, you give the audience what they came for.
There was a point before Richard made his first entrance
from underneath the trap door in Horace’s Hay and Feed Store. During the last
six weeks, in Lambertville, Richard used to think that he just couldn’t do this
Once he got out there on stage, everything was alright. One night he
was singing the opening part of Put On
Your Sunday Clothes
, and a line of the song did not come to him. Because he
wasn’t singing, everyone was looking at him to see what was happening.
When Richard was in rehearsal, Jack Schlissel invited the
company to see the Betty Grable company on Broadway. He thought she was ok. He
thought Dorothy Lamour was ok. He thought she came across on stage more
negative than she needed to be. Carol Channing lifted the show up even at the
end, when she is berating Vandergelder. With Dorothy, it was fatalistic. It
didn’t have the kind of strength and power and optimism that it should have, so
it was kind of flat. People went to see a star and they got it.
Alison England made
it work. Even at the end, it was all fantastic. Audiences went nuts for her at
the curtain calls. Audiences weren’t there to see a star. They didn’t know her.
Richard thinks Jerry Herman is great and terrific. Richard
remembers seeing Mame with Angela
Lansbury. As far as Broadway music that is just fantastic, no one can touch
him. He actually sent Angela a fan letter at the time and she wrote back.
Lucia Victor directed Richard’s tour. Don Lawrence was the
dance assistant. They only had nine days of rehearsal before heading to
Bloomington, Indiana. Richard had the freedom to bring as much as he could to
the table and Lucia was happy with what he was doing.
He wishes that he had had
more coaching as far as his solos were concerned. Everything worked out and he
never got any negative feedback. There was some kind of business in the flower shop
that Lucia was looking for that Richard couldn’t get a handle on. It didn’t
come to him after one or two tries. Due to time constraints, she cancelled the
business and moved on. He thought with more time, he would have been able to
grasp it. Nine days was a lot of pressure. Lucia knew what she wanted and she
got it. Richard never had any interaction out of the show itself on a one to
one basis.
Why does Richard think the title song always stops the show?
“Because all the guns point towards it.” Everything happens to focus on that
stairway. Once the Lamour company was performing at an army base in Missouri. It
was an afternoon performance. The only thing they cared about as far as the set
piece was concerned to make the show work was putting up the staircase. It led
up to a blank wall. There was no entry point at the top of the stairs except
going up the stairs.
That was the way it had to be because when that curtain
opens, Dolly comes down the stairs. That IS Hello,
, probably one of the most iconic moments in musical theater history.
Their Horace Vandergelder was Eric Brotherson. He had also
appeared with Ethel Merman in Call Me
and with Noel Harrison in Half-A-Sixpence.
He was a tall and elegant balding gray haired very suave dependable experienced
and wonderful. He didn’t have the necessary gruffness that David Burns had.
Richard had only seen David Burns in a couple of television appearances and he
always came across as gruff whether he was Vandergelder or not.    
Once, when they were in Mississippi, they were held for ransom
for eight hours. On the bus and truck tour, there were three busses, two for
the cast and one for the orchestra, and a van for the set pieces. They were
traveling through Mississippi and they were stopped by the state troopers. They
required a permit from the company. There was no permit and Richard doesn’t
even know if it was legally necessary to have one. They wouldn’t let anyone
move from the time they were stopped for about six to eight hours. Calls were
going back and forth to New York to either Schlissel or whoever was in the
office. Eventually they were bailed out. Richard doesn’t understand what the
satisfaction of that encounter was. Andrea Bell, who was Minnie Fay in that
production, said that homophobia was rampant in the South and there were usual harassments
from state troopers because of some of the cast members.  
Nowadays, it seems as if the shows that get produced on
Broadway are those shows that can convince others to back them.
Whether the backers
have a background in theater or not, “producers” are reaching out to these
people. We also now don’t have a uniformed audience to see the shows that ARE
getting produced. People are going to cable channels or stand-up comedy clubs  or various other sources of entertainment. It
is so diffused that there really isn’t a “Broadway” audience anymore. 
As of this writing, Richard is in rehearsal for The Laramie Project.
As most of my
readers know, that is a very heavy show. Richard, who now resides in Salem
Oregon where this will be presented, can’t really think of anyone in his own
circle of friends that he would expect to come out and see that kind of a
project except for the people who are in the cast. People don’t go to the theater
now to be uplifted. If it’s a bad time for them or if there’s a lull in their
lives or if it is dramatically relevant, but not much else, then they don’t
want to go and spend the time with it.  
in Salem Oregon was a hard pull to get people in.
Their closing night once again was in Lambertville, New
Jersey. Everyone was looking forward to that night. It had been a long tour. At
the time, Richard, since his parents were living in New Jersey, he stayed with
them and commuted back and forth. It was about a sixty to sixty-five commute
each way. In Lambertville, it was in the round with no real set. The scene in
which Cornelius and Barnaby are about to be discovered in the hat shop, he had
to dive into a large coffin-like wicker basket. He says his knees are not that
great now, but at that time, he was very agile. He would dive eight to ten feet
away from it and hit it every time. There was one night where it rained a
tremendous downpour.  That was beating so
heavily that the cast were screaming their lines and still were not able to be
At the time of this tour, Dorothy was going through a period
of her life in which this tour was a huge strain on her.
William Ross Howard III and Dorothy Lamour
She was traveling with
her husband, William Ross Howard III, a successful frozen food
businessman, was ill at the time.  He
died in 1978. He died of emphysema. For them to drive the entire run, which
they did in their Cadillac, she did not have the ability to enjoy the show as
much as she probably would have liked.
That’s too bad because it was a wonderful experience in so many ways.
Richard felt like she wasn’t there completely because of that.
Hello, Dolly! brings us to a New York that
brings us a lot of joy and that joy is there for everybody to be a part of. You
don’t see THAT New York any more. The history of New York and Yonkers and the
Harmonia Gardens and places like that and the life that was lived at that time
is an era that has passed. This show captures the essence of that and it is
fun. People can be transported if they just let themselves be part of it.   

The Other Players