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Deborah Jean Templin

Deborah Jean Templin grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota ten miles from anywhere. Her only connection to musical theater was seeing excerpts on the Ed Sullivan Show or watching movie musicals on a Saturday afternoon.

Deborah Jean was already a seasoned entertainer before she took on the mantle of Dolly Levi.

Deborah Jean Templin as Dolly Photo by Mark Garvin

She had already been touring extensively on national tours and regional theaters for thirty years. Prior to Hello, Dolly!, her biggest role was Grace Farrell in Annie playing opposite Harve Presnell. from ’79-’81.

She did the national tours of Baby, Titanic and Mamma Mia!  Deborah wrote a one woman show about nine women who survived the Titanic, including Molly Brown

In the Green Room with Jeff Coon, Matt Daugherty, Roger Preston Smith, Jonathan Stahl, Deborah Jean Templin, Michael McGurk Anne Connors, Jennifer Polish-Quinn, Mollie Hall (Courtesy Deborah Jean Templin)

Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic. It had a 60 city tour all over the United States in 2003, the year before she did Dolly, Deborah has worked in about thirty films in New York City. She also loves movie musicals. Being that she is from a farm in Minnesota, she would watch them all.

Watching Easter Parade as a little girl, she announced that someday she was going to be an actress in New York and that she would be in the movies.

Deborah Jean Templin and Tom Ligon (Photo by Mark Garvin

The very first musical that she appeared in, she was Guinevere in Camelotat the Palace Theater in New Hampshire in 1976. This theater was originally part of the Palace Theater circuit. It is a beautiful house and a great theater to play in. She loved that experience. That summer, in addition to Camelot, she also appeared in Fiddler on the Roof and The Pajama Game.

Since then she has spent many summers in New Hampshire performing both plays and musical theater. In the summer of 2012, she was at the Weathervane Theater in Whitefield, New Hampshire. She played Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein, receiving the New Hampshire Theater Award for Best Supporting Actress. She received Philadelphia Barrymore Award for best actress in a musical in 1996 for work in Nite Club Confidential.

Tom Ligon, Deborah Jean Templin, Christopher Sutton (Photo by Mark Garvin)

Her first New York audition in musical theater earned her her Equity card. She played four gentlemen in Eve Merriam’s The Club. The Club took place in 1901. Interestingly enough, throughout Deborah’s career, most of her work has been period work. The Titanic (1912). The Music Man (1902) and the The Matchmaker/Hello, Dolly!

During rehearsals Photo by Matt Daugherty (Courtesy Deborah Jean Templin)

Deborah is very familiar with the period. She enjoys the time of a hundred years ago. She has taught acting and theatre history at Cornell and Susquehanna Universities. There is something about that period that she really gravitates towards. Dolly also speaks to her on a personal level. At the time of this interview, Deborah was wearing a blouse she bought while starring as Dolly Levi. It makes her happy just thinking about it.

The Helen Hayes Dressing Room at the Walnut Street Theatre (Photo by Deborah Jean Templin

After her tour of Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic,Deborah wrote letters to directors and/or stage managers that she had worked with. One of the letters that she wrote was to Frank Anzalone at The Walnut Street Theater.

It just so happened, that he was going to be directing a production of Hello, Dolly!

She was called in by the theater, not an agent.

It was at Frank’s request.

(All photos by Mark Garvin)

Musical Director Sherman Frank with some of the members of the Orchestra (Photo by Deborah Jean Templin)

She didn’t wear a costume, but rather something that made her feel like Dolly. Ten days later, she got the call from the general manager of the theater saying they would like to offer her the part of Dolly Levi. She told the person calling her to hold on, she grabbed her friend’s hand and screamed out loud! She was so happy. She signed a contract a year ahead of time. When she walked into her first rehearsal, she was off book. Being concerned about walking on the passarelle and stepping down that big stair case, she took a year of ballet.

Tom Ligon and director Frank Anzalone (Photo by Deborah Jean Templin)

She wanted to make sure she was prepared. If they were willing to give her a contract a year ahead of time, she was going to be ready.

The production was a happy experience on all levels.

When asked how she would cast Hello, Dolly! She would start with Horace.

Director Frank Anzalone with choreographer, Bill Bateman (Photo by Deborah Jean Templin)

He would need to be a man of substance, older than Dolly. She does envision him almost as Mr. Monopoly. She would desire her Dolly Levi to be joyous in her work, a bit of a magician. Irene Molloy would have to have a beautiful voice, a Tommy Steele type to play Cornelius, the young embodiment of someone working their way up in society, a hopeful business man. He has to be believable as the young love interest. It is someone who sees the world through rose colored glasses before meeting Irene Molloy. If he has a training in Commedia dell arte, all the better.

Music Director Sherman Frank in rehearsal (Photo by Deborah Jean Templin)

Deborah Jean felt that performing at the Walnut Street Theater in Frank Anzalone’s production that every night she brought another facet of optimism.

She really worked on that. It is so hard to wake up in daily life and say, “What positive thing am I going to do today? Deborah desired to make sure she was fully charged every performance. She tried to give herself some objective to help her.What thing am I going to accomplish?” Every time, Deborah got on stage, she would look at a little diary she kept during the run of the show.

Julian Brightman in rehearsal (Photo by Deborah Jean Templin)

Some days, the word was “flow”. She would go with the flow. “All things have their time.”

Other days, the word was “Celebrate”. The audience got all the repartee. The audience was astonished when they heard Dolly Levi. Deborah was doing the show communicating her lines with the audience. She always felt an arc of energy she knew the audience was always with her.. She always got off to a great start in this race as Dolly by giving herself a trigger that would help her in her performance.

Tom Ligon as Horace in rehearsal having met Ernestina Money (Photo by Deborah Jean Templin)

All of the principals involved in this show worked so well together. We had a wonderful Horace Vandergelder in Tom Ligon.

Every night that she walked down those stairs, had a special meaning to Deborah.

Deborah’s father had passed away in the winter of 2002. Every night before descending those stairs, she would look up and say, “Hey, Dad! Look at this!” She knows that he was there in her head and her heart.

Family and friends came in from all over the country to see this show: Minnesota, Arizona and Alaska!

Her closest relatives were about two thousand miles away. It was great. Everyone was so impressed with the production values of the show.   What a treat to have a contract a year ahead of time because she loves being prepared.

Spencer Tracy said, “Know your lines, know your blocking, and don’t bump into the furniture.” It is as simple as that. Deborah has done five summers of alternating rotating rep. She might be doing Music Man on Monday , Floyd Collins on Tuesday, and My Fair Lady on Wednesday! Knowing her lines and being there for her fellow performers, it is what really works.  Hello, Dolly! is an evening of pure entertainment that lifts the spirits of the audience. It’s one of those shows that audiences leave the theater humming the songs.

Through her mother Deborah has a greater understanding of what it is to be a widow now. At the time of his passing her parents had been married 63 and a half years.

She feels that MOST actresses who play Dolly would like to play her again. Deborah is no exception to that rule. Each theater has their own special take on the Dolly. Frank Anzalone was VERY faithful to the concept, the  look and feel of Dolly as originally created.

Deborah feels that she would have no trouble doing a re conceived Hello, Dolly!

She has never had a problem working with a director. She has done Souvenir twice and the productions had two very different concepts  but they both were equally good.

When Frank directed Hello, Dolly!, he was in control of every aspect of the production. Deborah ALWAYS felt that she was in control of her performance. Frank’s direction made her feel confident and comfortable. She feels that a director’s job is to help the actor get out of their own way. Whoever chooses to direct Hello, Dolly!, t must have the confidence to allow the actress playing the part to execute her part of the concept.


There are all kinds of souls within all actors. That is what allows them to play a wide range of characters from murderers to babies. An actor’s duty is to find aspects of who they are playing..

What always comes first for Deborah is the script. Take Dolly’s the line, “The first thing to do is to make you financially independent.” That Dolly’s line on its own is something that Deborah can totally relate to. She asks who is this character, and where is this character and how would this character behave in this situation.

There is not an actor in the world who does not bring part of who they are to the character they are playing.

There are many things in Dolly that Deborah can relate to from being an independent woman to being a survivor. She lived in the lace up shoes of women of the turn of the century for two years.

Bertolt Brecht once said that the kind of shoes an actor wears helps them. Deborah found  that to be true.

Deborah remembers glimpse of previous Dollys on the Ed Sullivan Show. She never saw Carol Channing in a live performance. She looked at the script and made her choices.

When there is another Broadway revival of Dolly, Deborah would LIKE to see it played by a woman of at least fifty years of age. It would be nice to see Nancy Opel do it (Opening at the Ford’s Theater Washington DC March 15th, 2013). That being said, she feels that when an actress can sing, move well and handle the physical elements of the show, there should be no age limits on the role!

Hello, Dolly! was definitely a highlight of Deborah’s career. As part of the Walnut Street family in the 2003-2004 season in Annie, Unsinkable Women and Hello, Dolly! was extraordinary. As a New Yorker she felt very blessed to be well received by the people of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia audiences are very loyal to their theater. Artistic director, Bernard Havard is now celebrating his 30th anniversary since joining The Walnut Street Theatre After running the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta for six years, Bernard was approached to take over The Walnut, which at that time was a struggling rental facility. He then built a subscription audience from zero to where it is today—56,000, the largest in the world.

Closing night, the cast shared a cake with a portrait of Deborah as Dolly on the icing.

The Walnut Street Theater has a beautiful green room for actors. Bernard wanted a space in which actors were allowed to bring guests back stage and a place to be comfortable between shows.. Deborah remembers going down the steps and taking that last bow.

There was a wonderful sense of celebration every night when she came down the stairs each night in the white gown, a touch from Frank Anzalone.

Deborah was optimistic about what the future will hold for her. She had done Dolly. She felt/feels that she can do this role again. She now knew how to maintain her energy throughout a show like this. She was never sick, not once. She felt buoyant. She felt stronger. She knew that she was now ready for her “second term in office.” It certainly made her more prepared to do a two-hander like Souvenir in which she carried a show with only two people.

It made her more confident when she booked her own show. Some of the skills Dolly Levi has as a matchmaker Deborah use to promote and book her own production.  Her show continues to tour and 2012 marked Unsinkable Women in more than one hundred venues domestically and internationally.,

She understands what someone like Bernard Havard has to do to keep those seats full. She knows what is required to get people to leave their television sets and actually commit themselves to an evening in the theater. Deborah has a scrapbook with photos of all the people who came backstage and reviews. It will always be a show that she is ready to do at the drop of a hat.

Dolly Levi will always live in Deborah Jean Templin’s heart. Dolly has helped Deborah to continue as an actress and always will.

(Editor's Note: Deborah Jeam Templin is currently starring in Souvenir at Penguin Rep in Stony Point, NY through through September 2nd, 2017)

Photo by Deborah Jean Templin