'Hello, Dolly,' hello, workload

A matchmaker meets her biggest challenge in "Hello, Dolly!," the latest production taken on by Laguna Beach High School's Park Avenue Players that opens this weekend.

The play, which takes place at the turn of the century in New York, first debuted in 1964 on Broadway and has had the likes of Carol Channing and Barbara Streisand play the lead.

This time around, senior Haley Castuera is in the lead role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow who matches lonely singles with their "perfect partners."

"The hardest part was acting older," Haley said over the phone earlier this week.

It was subtle but important things the 18-year-old had to get used to.

"Speaking slower, not moving as much when I talk," Haley continued. "Just getting into the mind set that you've been on this planet that long and what you might have seen and experienced."

Haley, who is headed to Boston University in the fall, is no newbie to theater and acting — she's been in a number of productions since childhood and most recently had a leading role in the school's production of "The Sound of Music."

She listened to music of the 1960s — Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, George Gershwin and Louis Armstrong — to give her perspective on people of that era pretending to be those of the turn of the century.

"The dialogue is a lot different than any other show I've done," she said. "It's very fast-paced, old language....very corny and really old phrases you haven't heard in a while.

"I definitely have opened up in real life from playing [Dolly] because she is such an open, outgoing character and I feel like it's bled into my life a little bit."

Choosing "Hello, Dolly," was an educational move on the part of director and drama teacher Mark Dressler.

"First of all, you have to look at the kids who you have to do the show, and I felt like we had the cast to do it, " Dressler said.

"Hello, Dolly!" contrasted with the style of musical productions done previously, he added. Last year, the high school did "The Sound of Music," and earlier this year, it did "Grease."

"One of the reasons I picked this play was for the breadth of education," Dressler said.

"Hello, Dolly!" is known for being a more lavish production in terms of costumes, set design, dance and music numbers. Not many high schools tend to attempt such a show, but Dressler wanted the students to be challenged.

"We designed the set and built it ourselves," he said. "... Another reason why we chose ["Hello, Dolly!"] was the music for musicians, because they are getting an opportunity to play this fantastic Jerry Herman score."

The crew, who Dressler calls outstanding, will use a fly system (where scenery and set designs are on ropes and flown in and out between scenes).

"To be on the crew of a show like this, you have to be on the ball, plan ahead," he added. "There's a whole system of hierarchy among the kids. People don't realize that 90% of a show happens backstage."

Tuesday night, Dressler plan to run the cast through a full dress rehearsal to work out the timing of music and stagecraft, he said.

It's been a busy past couple of weeks for the students.

"We've been at school till 11 p.m at night," junior Tatum Moore said Tuesday afternoon while getting her makeup done for the rehearsal. "We're all super stressed and super tired."

Tatum, 16, plays Ernestia, a role that she calls "a crazy girl Dolly sets up with Horace."

"For me, it's like I always get cast as this crazy woman, and I'm kind of used to it," Tatum said about taking on a more background type of role. "I've just grown to get used to it. It's like [it's not] a set character ... and I get to create [my own version of] the character, which is such a cool experience.

"[With] the more well-known characters, there's this perception of what it should be."

Time management is the toughest part of the rigorous schedule.

"Most of us get better with our school work because we have to be organized with what we're doing," she said.

Each actor plays about three characters, with three to four costume changes for about 30 kids, Dressler said. He's also hired a couple of professional musicians to accompany the student orchestra.

"It's a really a great experience to get to sit in [and play with] these guys," noted Dressler, who also directs Thurston Middle School's productions.

However, it's the effect on the students that keeps him engaged with his job.

"Most importantly, they're gaining all of this practical knowledge of how to work together ... and make something beautiful," Dressler reflected. "It's too bad all public schools don't have an outstanding arts program; it makes for better Americans and people who can think from another point of view ... higher level thinking skills."

"Hello, Dolly!" opens Friday and runs through the weekend, and again March 21 through 24 at the Artists Theatre.


Twitter: @agomezberman

If you go

What: "Hello, Dolly!" by the Park Avenue Players

When: 7:30 p.m. March 15, 16, 21 and 23 and 2:30 p.m. March 17 and 24

Where: Artists Theatre at Laguna Beach High School, 625 Park Ave.

Tickets: $10 for students, $15 for adults and $20 for reserved

Information: (949) 497-7769 for box office

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