Ronald Young’s dream came true! He got to New York just in time. There was a cattle call happening for a brand new musical and they were looking for Equity and non-Equity performers. AND it was going to be directed and choreographed by Gower Champion!
Having completed his second summer of stock at Kansas City Starlight, then singing at his sister’s wedding, Ron took off for NY, stopped to see a friend in Chicago and arrived in NYC just before the audition for Hello, Dolly!
Talk about lucky stars.
He trouped down to stand in line with the others on a Saturday afternoon, hoping that there would be an outside chance that he would be cast in the role of Barnaby Tucker, the part he was auditioning for. He was “typed out” immediately but it gave him the feel of being on a Broadway stage. On the following Monday the audition for Equity singers would be held, with dancers being seen on Tuesday. Only later was he told that in those days it was rarely done to attend both calls for singers and dancers.
Monday morning dawned. It was a step up to be able to attend the Equity call, rather than the open call.His number to be called was in the hundreds. His choice of song to sing that day was “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot, because the last sixteen bars had a high “G” that fit his voice very well.
He was asked to come back the following Monday by Gower Champion for the singers final!
Years later upon meeting Robert Goulet, Ron thanked him for helping him get his first Broadway show.
The next day was the Equity dancers’ call. At most dancers auditions dancers wear dance pants or tights with T-shirts or tank tops.
Ron wore a shirt and tie to the dance audition!
When Ron’s number was called, “Gower looked at him and said, “Did I ask you to come back to the dancer’s call today?”
The choice of attire worked! Gower remembered him.
Ballet came first in the dance call. Gower’s assistant demonstrated the combination.
After several combinations, Ron was headed to Broadway.
Ron Young was in the original company of Dolly from the beginning audition, through the tryouts in Detroit and Washington DC. He stayed with the show about 2 1/2 years.
Having come to NY from a small farm community in OK and getting into the original company of Hello, Dolly! at Ron’s first audition forever impacted his life in such a positive way. He had always dreamed of being on Broadway and to have his dream realized at his first audition was unbelievable. What stayed with him throughout his career was the fastidious way that Gower worked. He was so inventive and so precise. He was a master at making a musical number come alive on stage. He radiated confidence. What a way to start a Broadway career!
After Carol Channing, Ron would continue to appear in Dolly with Ginger Rogers, Phyllis Diller and Ethel Merman.
Ron’s thoughts on each
Carol was an original. Being a “newbie” I was in awe of her and never really got to know her. She created such excitement on stage.
Ginger was a Hollywood movie musical star. She had great eyes. Never got to know her at all either. She had to be out one night and sent her husband to the theater to lock her dressing room, so that Bibi Osterwald couldn’t use it. Didn’t work. Lucia Victor let him know that was not how things were done in theater.
Phyllis added about 15 minutes to the show with her ad libs and speech to the audience doing curtain calls. I thought she was surprisingly good. I had come back to the show in the role of Ambrose Kemper. So there was a certain time in the show when I went by her dressing room to pick her up for her next entrance. Therefore, I got to know her a little better. Read the story from my book, The Only Boy Who Danced, about her having me recite the 4-H Club pledge. Oy!
My time with Ethel, playing Ambrose, was limited to 8 performances. I was allowed to get out of my contract to play the lead in the revival of “The Boy Friend.” Her professionalism was monumental.
In the feed store scene – Horace would be downstairs in the light doing “It takes a Woman” with the men. Ethel, “Ermengarde”, and I would be sitting upstairs in dim light.
She would completely relax. Then just seconds before the lights would go up, I would feel her motor start to rev up. The lights came on and she was blazing.
Ron was in awe of Gower, having watched all those MGM musicals since he was a kid. Read in his book how he handled the auditions. During rehearsals if Gower had said “Now you jump off of the bridge” Ron probably would have jumped.
Then there was the “Look I’m dancing” with Marge Champion, where he didn’t wash his hands for 3 days after having danced with her. Also, the first week of rehearsals was spent exclusively on the Waiters’ Gallop and Dolly. Then during the rest of rehearsals and the tryouts and all the working on the show, those 2 numbers were never altered. They remained the same as they created it at the Mark Hellinger during that first week.
Ron just steered clear of David Merrick. There was something of Salvadore Dali in his pristine brilliantine look. Ron was so green, he didn’t know any of the political machinations that were going on with Jerry, the music, Gower, the direction, or any of it.
What do you think was Carol Channing’s best moment during the run of the show?
One was opening night when the Dolly number stopped the show. The other was her last night of the first Broadway run. She came on stage for the opening to do her mike check and all of us in the opening number applauded her. She broke down and had to go back to the dressing room to compose herself.
Tell me about your first performance of Hello, Dolly!
I know it was in Detroit, but I don’t remember it exactly.
It was a huge thrill to have original costumes made with my name in them. It was just so exciting to be on stage with all these talented people. I had no idea the show was in trouble in Detroit.
They rehearsed for about 6 weeks in NY, then about a month in Detroit and a month in DC. Carol stayed with the original company a little less than 2 years.
When Ron left Dolly to go into Mame, there was a feeling of sadness at leaving his “family” and being a little scared of the newness of another rehearsal period.
Being Ron’s first Broadway show, the high level of professionalism helped him to improve and gain more skills that forwarded him in his 33 year career in theater.
Ron’s worst expeience in the show came one night in the Waiters’ Gallop, during the Russian jumps (the waiters were in 2 rows, holding their trays in their right hands – they would jump straight up with their knees out and feet together 2 times, then land in a pile in 1st position, pop up on our heels out in 2nd position. Then after doing that for 3 or 4 times, they would just continue doing the first jumps in the air. Well one night, Ron lost count and was the only one jumping up in the air, while everyone else was in the pile in 1st. There was no way he could get down to earth fast enough. He’s sure no one in the audience noticed…… right.
Ron never saw any other Dollys. He had friends who went around the world with Mary Martin and said she was wonderful.
Ron says thank goodness Jerry Herman received one of the Kennedy Center Honors this past year. It was about time. He was one of the least recognized titans of the musical theater. His music is infectious and hummable. It was thrilling when he asked Ron if he would like to audition for Mame, while still in Dolly.
Ron remembers working on the Dolly number and the build that Gower put in it. Then to hear it with an orchestra was an over the top experience for him.
What one major change have you seen in the industry since you first did
We used to do musical shows that got to a person’s gut in the audience. Now most of the shows are all events with lots of high tech effects.