Walter Charles is an actor and singer with an enviable resume.
Charles made his Broadway debut in Grease in 1972. Additional credits include 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Sweeney Todd, Cats, La Cage aux Folles, Me and My Girl, Aspects of Love, Kiss Me, Kate, The Boys from Syracuse, Big River, The Woman in White, and The Apple Tree.
Charles' screen credits include A Fine Mess, Fletch Lives, Weeds, and Prancer.
On television, he has appeared in Cagney and Lacey, Kate and Allie, Law and Order, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent.
He has also played Horace Vandergelder in several productions of Hello, Dolly!
Walter never saw Dolly on Broadway. As a matter of fact, he can’t recall EVER seeing a production of it beyond a summer stock production. He never saw Carol Channing’s immortal take on Dolly. He knew, however, that Horace Vandergelder was a role he desired to play. Of course, some of the songs were well known enough to be on Walter’s radar. He never heard the entire score until the first time he was doing the show with Melissa Hart. He is not one to collect original cast albums or CDs.
He has a few but he doesn’t usually listen to show music. When he first heard the score, he was surprised at how really terrific this score is.
Everyone knows the famous Louis Armstrong recording. There are many cover versions of the title song but the rest of the score is really beautiful.
The first time that Walter played Horace was at the Westchester Dinner Theater in New York opposite Melissa Hart. She was terrific. He got a call from his agent asking him to audition. He went in, auditioned, and got the part.He would go on to play Horace opposite Michele Lee and Tovah Feldshuh.
He has wonderful memories of all of his Dollys.
Michele Lee was “an absolute delight.” He loved her and they got along great. She’s funny. She is warm and intelligent and works hard. She has had a very extensive film and television career. He remembers one point in which they were talking on stage. She was saying her lines and forgot a line and instead said, “Well, Horace, we’ll just have to take a meeting.”
It was a very LA moment. He enjoyed that a lot.
One night at the end of one of his performances opposite Tovah Feldshuh at The Papermill Playhouse, she planted a real kiss on him and whispered in his ear, “None of your other Dollys ever kissed you like that, did they?”
If the opportunity presents itself again, Walter cannot think of anything he would do differently in his portrayal of Horace. It all depends, of course, on whom the Dolly is and how he relates to her and what she is like. Basically, Horace is something of a grouch. He is something of a lonely guy and this woman enters his life and changes it and he admits to himself that this is what he has always desired. Walter doesn’t think that outside of that that the character would change much for him.
The Papermill Playhouse went for a more “realistic” take on Dolly that really went back to the source material. Being born Gallagher, Tovah played Dolly as an Irish immigrant. She even gave Dolly a brogue.
Walter thought it was a different and brilliant choice. She approached the character very organically. He has a note framed from her that says it was wonderful working with him and she called him “Oh mighty tango dancer.” He is not a dancer but they managed to do a tango sequence. She is a very committed actress. Her performance across the board was her own and different from every other actress who has ever embodied the part. He got along great with her.Mark Hobee, who directed this production, allowed Tovah to find the character for herself. It was the first time that Tovah was playing Dolly and the third time that Walter was playing Horace. Mark allowed her to find her own way without imposing any restrictions on her, the Irish brogue being a prime example. She is a wonderful actress who works from the inside out. Tovah’s Dolly was totally her creation. She is a really pro and easy to work with in every regard. She was wonderful with the entire cast. It was a smooth production all the way through.
Walter knew this was going to be a special production from that first rehearsal with the cast.
The entire cast was superb from top to bottom. It was beautifully cast in the first place.
Everybody really knew what they were doing. It is his favorite production of the three.
The Papermill Playhouse is very dear to Walter. His parents took him there when he was a kid growing up in Sussex County, New Jersey. He can’t remember all the shows he saw there or the first show he did there. The Papermill Playhouse has been a part of his life and a part of his family’s theater going life. He had the opportunity to do a wonderful production of Shenandoah there. He has done shows there, like Shenandoah that he hasn’t done anywhere else. They have a very devoted audience. They take care of their actors. They get good directors and good staff people. The creative staff and management is terrific. They will do everything they can to make everyone comfortable.
It is one of the real theater treasures that are outside of the metropolitan area.
He has always loved going to work there.
Walter has played Alban AND Georges in La Cage Aux Folles, Sweeney Todd, and Ben Stone in Follies. He has had an amazing career over the past forty years. He would also place Horace Vandergelder in the top ten roles he has played.
Having not seen other productions of Dolly, he brought more of a singer to Horace than is traditionally cast. He is more legit singing wise than most character actors who are traditionally sought for Horace.
Michele Lee said in her interview that the process is different each time you embark on a new production. Even if you have a past history with a role, you approach it as if you are playing it for the first time.
Walter tries to keep the basic elements of a role he revisits but he tries to keep himself open to whatever way his co-star decides to play it.
Everyone will have a different take on it in some way, shape, or form.
That doesn’t bother him in the least. He loves to make those adjustments. It is not Hello, Horace; it is Hello, Dolly! He always has that in mind. It is important that the actress playing Dolly is comfortable in the part AND with Walter.
He has no problem making those adjustments at all.
When it comes to Jerry Herman, Walter feels very close to him. Not just because of Hello, Dolly. Jerry, along with Arthur Laurents and Alan Carr gave him a shot at La Cage Aux Folles. When he was playing Alban in New York (he replaced George Hearn), there was a major AIDS benefit, which was held at the Metropolitan Opera, Jerry wanted to do a number that had been written for a show but had been cut. Walter got a chance to sing that song with Jerry Herman at the piano on stage at The Metropolitan Opera. Jerry is very dear to Walter, always encouraging and smiling and happy. Walter loves him.
One thing that all three productions that Walter has done have in common. The title song is a classic show-stopping number that delivers every time. All of the stops are pulled out. She has that entrance. Dolly has the entrance of a lifetime coming down those stairs. There is that gown and all those waiters fawning all over her. She is the Grande dame of the evening.
It is THE classic eleven o’clock production number. It is what everyone waits to see and hear. It never fails. It is really quite extraordinary regardless of who is playing it or the kind of theater you’re in, whether you’re in a theater like St. Louis’ MUNY or a regional theater somewhere.
It ALWAYS works. It is a miracle. No matter how many times people see it, they just roar their approval. It’s the way it is set up. It just works like gangbusters. It is a great song. Hello, Dolly is one of those classic shows that have taken on an aura of their own. You kind of know going in what you’re going to get. Those shows never disappoint. Dolly is one of those classic show business musicals with razzamatazz and singing and dancing. These shows also have to live up to their reputations. The show has to do its legacy justice and it never fails. The part of Horace is something Walter Charles can always have in his repertoire. The show is so organic and so special. It is so beloved by the theater-going public. You’re almost always assured a perfectly wonderful time when you do it. He is always open and available to do any production of Hello, Dolly! It is unlike anything else he has ever done. It’s unlike Shenandoah. It is unlike Sweeney Todd. It is unlike La Cage Aux Folles. It is unlike Follies. It IS different. It is a classic from another era. Jerry Herman writes those songs better than anybody else. Walter always looks forward to playing in it and he will look forward to seeing it when he can!