As of this interview, Samantha Rehr is twenty years old and getting her BFA in Acting at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While committed to pursuing her Acting degree, she has no minor. She furthermore considers herself very fortunate to have a loving and supportive family behind her.
Hello, Dolly! is a show that appeals to a multitude of generations and demographics. Jerry Herman once said that somewhere in the world on any given night, a woman is descending the stairs in an outlandish headdress and red gown. Hello, Dolly!, fifty years later, is still a popular and staple production in high schools around the world. Samantha Rehr was a mere fifteen years old when she was given the opportunity to do Dolly Gallagher Levi’s togs; strutting her stuff at Weston High School in Weston, Connecticut.
Samantha’s desire and passion to pursue a career as an actress was definitely driven by her involvement with Hello, Dolly!
Although Dolly was not Samantha’s first try at acting, it was the one that changed the course of her life. When she was in the fifth grade, she was in Annie Get Your Gun, as a Native American. Thus, theatre turned out to be an important after-school activity for her.
At the time, Samantha didn’t entertain the possibility of acting as a serious career; that is, not until she played the monumental role of Dolly Levi. After Annie Get Your Gun, Samantha Rehr would continue her small roles just for the fun of it.
Along with her various school productions, she was also involved with summer acting opportunities. As time went on, she began to more seriously tap into her potential as an actress. As she finally became more comfortable with the auditioning process, her audition for Dolly went considerably well; to say the least.
Samantha has stated that she wished she could have had the opportunity to have experienced Carol Channing’s iconic portrayal of Dolly Levi; she has no other gauge or reference other than the seemingly ancient video clips. Samantha hasn’t seen much else of her, and, to be honest, Carol Channing was a Dolly that Samantha had trouble relating to. The only other frame of reference for Samantha was Barbra Streisand’s portrayal of Dolly in the 1969 silver screen classic.
Samantha loves Streisand. She was able to relate to her instantly because she is Jewish; and, as a true New Yorker, Samantha really understood her. Streisand ultimately stood as a hero for Samantha, as she always – and still does – loved watching her perform.
Weston High School has a great acting and theatre program; one that Samantha had been a part of since her freshman year. A casting notice went out that Dolly was going to be performed in the Spring, and Samantha quickly seized the opportunity to go after it; regardless what role she was offered. As the company would present two shows a year, Samantha was actively involved with all of the performances leading up to Dolly!. Without the intention of ever playing the role of Dolly, Samantha simply desired to be a member of the production. And, for her audition, she sang the unforgettable show tune, Memory from Cats!
There were a couple of other students up for the role that Samantha considered stiff competition. After auditioning, she continued her life as any normal fifteen year old and never really concerned herself with the results. It only took a few days before she got the call. She didn’t know what to expect, but she certainly didn’t expect the lead!
She was excessively ecstatic to find out that she would be STARRING in her first show, AND that it was Hello, Dolly! Dolly had always been very important to Samantha, and had been everything that has inspired her to move forward in her acting endeavors. She also recognizes that it has been an inspiration and incredible influence in not only her life and journey, but furthermore to audiences all over the world who have experienced the show, and to every actress who have inspired Dolly. Again, Rehr was fifteen and going through the typical melodramatic troubles that most fifteen year olds go through – boys, school, and her low self-esteem – her roll as the remarkable Dolly Levi gave her a fresh perspective on life and new-found confidence! Samantha was playing a character that is supremely confident, intelligent, and witty. Dolly always knows what she is doing; never skipping a beat. Samantha considers the opportunity to portray this character brought her to a new – and significantly distinguished – level in her life.
Being that this was a high school production, there were only three performances. However, she does have a favorite moment: performing Before the Parade Passes By. That song is still one of Samantha’s favorite songs: “It really shows Dolly’s desperate courage.”
Because she was so young at the time, she focused mainly on learning her part as Dolly; maintaining admirable efforts to give Dolly incredible life and character. She furthermore sought out the “truth” in the character of Dolly; she did her absolute and personal best.
Samantha says that in any role, she drew upon her personal experiences; they of course being what they were at the time. Obviously, there is a huge gap between being a fifteen year old and playing a woman of a certain age who was a widow and rejoining the human race. However this character could be seemingly difficult for anyone to portray – let alone a fifteen year old – it was very simple for Samantha; she made her substitutions. The personality of Dolly also had experienced a loss and sadness in her lifetime; these experiences can certainly be considered acts of courage as well. Samantha had to find something in HER life that would help her to tap into that. It could have manifested in any of her various high school enterprises; from her efforts to be a good student, to aspiring to be a good daughter.
The opening night was encountered with the usual nervousness, as she recalls feeling her heart beating in her ankles. At one point, she flung her arms out at the closet door where Cornelius was hiding in Mrs. Molloy’s Hat Shop. She looked over at Horace and completely blanked. She simply stared at Horace – for what seemed like a whole minute – before Horace spoke and saved the scene. She carries that profound memory with her.
Dolly sets her goals in mind to marry Horace and put herself back out in the world. Those two objectives were easy for Samantha to focus in on, and everything else came very naturally.
Samantha’s creative evolution with any role develops strongly during the rehearsal process. Five years after the fact, and now in college, Samantha’s methods and practices have become significantly more sophisticated. Now, she independently conducts a considerable amount of research before hand, while also creates a complete character breakdown that she keeps in a journal.
It was Samantha’s involvement with Dolly that influenced her to pursue acting as a career, as her experience in portraying Dolly Levi opened her eyes to a myriad of creative opportunities in the theatre that she had never encountered before. Dolly gave her confidence; Dolly gave her pride.
Samantha’s director, Damian Long, also had a huge impact on her, as he was Samantha’s director for all eight shows that she appeared in at Weston High School. Samantha acknowledges that he was very smart and always knew what to say to bring that “something extra” out of his actors.
Samantha is also a big fan of Cornelius Hackl. She considers him to be an extremely lovable character, and believes that he would be a rewarding and fun role to play; given there were no restrictions.
Of all the wonderful qualities of Dolly Levi, for Samantha, finding courage is definitely the most challenging part of all of this. Not only is she faced with this challenge in playing the role of Dolly, but furthermore in the entire process of committing to acting as a career; pushing herself far beyond her comfort zone.
Samantha has a friend currently debating if he desires to stay in this rewarding, yet also at times, discouraging business. His heart is not COMPLETELY in it. Her advice to him – and anyone else reading this – is that you have to be one hundred percent sure. It is something she works incredibly hard at every single day. She is lucky that she does have so much passion for this art and is wholeheartedly committed to her work. For if she didn’t, she wouldn’t have grown and developed as remarkably and matured as she has.
This is what she HAS to do because it is innately who she is.
Hello, Dolly!, at fifteen, was a “kick in the butt”. However, in its defense, it got her theater ball rolling. As of this interview as a twenty year old woman, she reflects back on Dolly as a very real inspiration to admire and look up to. When she is the appropriate age, she would like to revisit her. She has taken all the qualities of Dolly and has incorporated them into her life; on and off the stage.
THAT is why Arts in Education is so vital!