By David Templeton
In the unstoppably popular musical, Hello, Dolly!, the title character memorably reports, “My late husband, Ephraim Levi, believed in life, and anyplace you can find it … cafes, ballrooms, yes even theaters!”
Not long after, she is greeted by the staff at her one-time favorite restaurant, where she’s been absent since the death of Mr. Levi, welcoming her back where she belongs.
The sentiment is rich with meaning for the cast, crew and vast team of volunteers at Marin County’s beloved Mountain Play, which since mid-May has been welcoming audiences back to the Cushing Amphitheater on Mt. Tamalpais for its stellar production of Hello, Dolly!
The show was to have been Mountain Play’s 2020 offering, but was postponed for the last two years due to COVID-19 precautions. With the delay officially over, audiences have been gleefully and giddily returning to the mountain, where the nonprofit organization that produces the annual event has been selling T-shirts with the slogan, “Back where we belong.”
Among those who are grateful to be back is actor Dyan McBride, who has waited two years for her chance to step into Dolly Levi’s iconic shoes, performing in what many believe is one of the greatest musicals ever written.
“I’ve known this play my whole theatrical life,” notes McBride, who starred in the last Mountain Play production before the pandemic, playing the lead in 2019’s Mamma Mia! “I’ve always loved it, and always thought it was such a beautiful, life affirming show. And now that I’m in this production on Mt. Tam, I’ve come to realize how enormous this show is in every way. The dances, which are so much fun and just go on forever because the score is also enormous, the costumes, the characters—the whole show is just larger than life and wonderful to be a part of.”
Directed by Jay Manley, choreographed by Zoe Swenson-Graham, with musical director David Moschler leading a 20-piece orchestra, the show played to an opening day audience that was somewhat smaller than openings in the past, but since has been steadily building attendance. Though one performance had to be canceled due to rain, the show seems poised to end with a joyous bang this Sunday.
Hello, Dolly!, about a professional matchmaker who decides to come out of hiding after a long period of grief, and set herself up with an eligible half-a-millionaire (played by Randy Nazarian), is filled with recognizable songs—“Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes a Moment”—that are tailor-made to lift people’s spirits.
“The whole play is perfect for what we’ve been going through together the last few years,” McBride says. “It’s an optimistic play, and don’t we need that?”
One of the most iconic scenes is, of course, Dolly’s entrance at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, with dozens of waiters dancing around her and singing about how much they’ve missed her.
“The first time we rehearsed that, I admit I got a little shy, all of that attention aimed in my direction,” laughs McBride. “It was a little overwhelming. What they all love about Dolly, of course, is that she loves them, and loves people, and loves life. Dolly Levi is very good at life, and that’s contagious.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the show, and the irresistible character of Dolly herself, has proved to be such a major draw this summer.
“She’s playful and real, she’s delightful and straight-forward,” says McBride. “It’s really a powerful play, I think, because it’s about enjoying ourselves while we can. That’s what Dolly knows and what she shares with people, the awareness that we don’t have that long on this planet, and we’d better have a great time while we’re here.”
‘Hello, Dolly!’ runs Sunday, June 19 at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre in Mount Tamalpais State Park. 801 Panoramic Hwy., Mill Valley. 2pm. $25–$185. 415.383.1100. www.mountainplay.org