Ruth Williamson

BroadwayWorld.com begins its review of Ruth Williamson’s star turn as Dolly with the following, “When putting together an entertaining revival of a beloved musical theater entity such as HELLO, DOLLY! it helps to have a fresh perspective of such a familiar show, yet still have enough reverence to produce a work that honors its source material. With absolute certainty, 3D Theatricals’ production of the Jerry Herman classic achieves this goal with great sincerity, providing the audience with a thoroughly splendid, fun, and engaging new show. Thanks to its adorable premise that’s been brought to life by an outstanding ensemble cast—wonderfully led by Broadway vet Ruth Williamson in the title role—HELLO, DOLLY! no doubt continues to please its audiences at the OC Pavilion Theatre in Santa Ana. The songs are well-sung, the dancing is exceptional, and the comedy is beguiling.”

So far, Ruth Williamson has only done one production of Hello, Dolly! However, like most actresses who have taken on this role, she cannot wait to do it again.  A friend of Ruth’s, TJ Dawson, someone she had worked with previously, opened a theater in Orange County, south of LA called Three D Theatricals, a company that he had opened with his siblings. She didn’t know this but she was complaining on Facebook that she couldn’t get any summer stock work. What was going on? This was the first time in years that she did not have any summer stock jobs.  TJ saw this and called Ruth and asked if she would like to do Hello, Dolly! She immediately said yes and off she went.

Probably hearing Louis Armstrong sing Hello, Dolly! when she was a ten year old kid are her first recollections of hearing this iconic song. It was such a pop hit.

BroadwayWorld.com had the following to say about Dolly’s director, “Under the direction of director Calvin Remsberg, HELLO, DOLLY! has that palpable plucky spirit of a show trying its darndest to entertain you… and succeeds.” The show was chock full of extraordinary dancers. There were so many young people in the ensemble who were remarkable gymnasts. The Waiter’s Gallop was quite something. It bore a strong resemblance to the original but it was also quite athletic. Because there were so many brilliant young people in the show, they took advantage of that. It was used throughout the show.

That production ran four weeks. Prior to playing Dolly, Ruth has only seen one other actress take on the role, the original, Carol Channing. Ruth loves Carol Channing. Especially since seeing Dori Berenstein’s documentary, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life. “There is nobody like Carol Channing.”

Ruth is very proud of her own production of Dolly. She feels that it was beautifully produced. It was in a gorgeous theater called The Orange County Pavilion. It actually looked like the Harmonia Gardens. Very ornate and very red and gold and old fashioned and it was the perfect setting for Dolly.

Ruth just loves the arc of this character. Here is a woman who is not a youngster, a widow, who decides she has to get back into the flow of life. She is tired of not living a full life. She sets out to get this guy and she gets him. Not a common story for an older woman. The ONLY thing she didn’t like about this production was the hour drive to and from the theater she had to make each night. The production itself comes with no complaints. She had a brilliant Vandergelder, David Allen Jones, who is well known to LA audiences. It was beautifully done. She actually got to wear one of Carol’s Dolly headdresses at one point. Her read feathers were once worn by Channing so she felt very honored.

Ruth has two favorite moments in the show. The first takes place at the end of Act One, the reprise to “Parade”. She is so determined to rejoin life. Ruth just loves that moment. She also loves the moment at the end of the show when she and Horace realize they belong with each other.

Who would she like to see play Dolly? Ruth! Ruth!! Ruth!!! She would have loved to have seen Dorothy Louden play Dolly. Dorothy did do a production of The Matchmaker for The Roundabout Theater which was panned by the critics. She did have her Dolly Levi moment on Broadway in Jerry’s Girls.

Ruth admits that she was terrified on her opening night. During the tag of I Put My Hand In, “I twist a little, stir a little, him a little, her a little…”, she was petrified of those lyrics as are other Dollys I have interviewed. It’s wordy AND it has to fit! She couldn’t get it right in rehearsal. She screwed it up almost every time, and the anticipation of that moment in the show was scary. She was afraid she would once again screw it up. Of course, she didn’t.

What makes a good Dolly?

Ruth believes that every woman who plays Dolly must have a modicum of charm and if not a strong personality, at least, a strong persona. Ruth says she can put on the charm and she has a strong personality. Dolly has to be warm.   Ruth has all of those qualities in spades.

By the time the show opened, they were in very good shape so Ruth doesn’t recall any tweaking once the show was up and running. Opening night was a wonderful occasion with many friends in the audience cheering her on. Coming out in her wedding gown, for the curtain call, that was designed for this production gave her a very strong sense of accomplishment. She was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. She usually played second banana. Here she was, the STAR of the show!  She’s had that experience twice and both times as Jerry’s girls, Dolly and Mame. She loves her Jerry Herman. “He’s a freaking genius”. She is so glad they finally honored him at the Kennedy Center Honors. She has known Jerry for many years. She knows Jerry from a production of Mack and Mable that she had done at Papermill Playhouse in 1988. She would go on to play Jacqueline in La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway in 2004. She got to know him even better then. She thinks Jerry is the nicest man in the world. She doesn’t  think there are many as talented as he. “He also has a heart as big as the ocean.”  She feels that that comes through in his work. He loves women, clearly. He writes so beautifully for them.

She experienced great joy doing Dolly. It’s such a fun ride. She always looks for the joy in her work. Since doing  Dolly, that show put her in touch with the true joy of performance. It rekindled that feeling from her youth. It was a happy time. She had so much fun doing it and she considers it the highlight of her career. She’ll always carry that with her.

Once the show settled into the run, she settled into a routine. As mentioned earlier, Ruth did have an hour drive to and from the theater each night. She tried to relax as much as possible. It is an exhausting show and she had to carry it. It was during the summer, so she would take out time to lie by her pool in LA. She would do a vocal warm up and go over lyrics each night before departing for the show.

Ruth’s best friend, Brian, who she lives with, was at both opening and closing night. He said the show had grown so much and that meant a lot to Ruth. That the show had evolved and blossomed.  She trusts his eye so it did carry weight.

The Biggest change Ruth has seen in this industry since first starting

The biggest change that Ruth has seen in this industry since first getting into it is that now it so youth oriented. When she walks into an audition now, casting directors are twenty five years young. A lot of them don’t know the history of the people who are walking into their offices. Years ago, Ruth worked with Alice Ghostly. Certainly everyone my age knows who she is. She would walk into casting offices in her later years and they didn’t know who she was! Casting directors need to be educated in who they are seeing and who they are casting. They just don’t have a history. I don’t think it has the heart it used to.

In closing, Ruth says it is so refreshing to see and play such a great part for an older woman who is so full of life and still so vital, a woman who still wants to find a man and still wants to succeed. She is getting by by the seat of her pants and her smarts. Unfortunately, Jerry did not see this production but let’s hope that the opportunity presents itself again and SOON!
Photo credit: Ruth Williamson and photographer: Alysa Brennan