Memories of Melody Top: Remembering Milwaukee’s Summer Stock Theatre

A very big thank you to former "costume mistress," Annie Bruskiewitz, for sharing this large and amazing gallery of images from the opening production of Melody Top's 1971 summer season – HELLO, DOLLY! Flipping through these 110 images is almost like seeing the show in person. All that's missing is a metal-framed chair with a canvas seat and backing, plus lots of gravel under your sensible summer shoes, to make you feel like you are back under the tent on Good Hope Road. This production also marked Martin Wiviott's first official credit as "producer" at the Top, a title he held through 1978.

The Cast of HELLO, DOLLY! (1971) at Melody Top.

Dorsey Vogt (Ernestina), Virginia Seidel (Minnie Fay), Don George (Cornelius Hackl), Dorothy Lamour (Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi), Jack Bailey (Horace Vandergelder), Joan Carvelle (Irene Molloy) and David Gary (Barnaby Tucker) were captured taking their bows after a performance of HELLO, DOLLY! (1971) at Melody Top. Photo from the collection of Virginia Seidel.


Photos from HELLO, DOLLY!, June 8 – 20, 1971

(Click on any icon below to begin the slide show. Use next and previous buttons to navigate images.)

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DOLLY Gives Her Best – That's a Lot

by Michael H. Drew, the Milwaukee Journal, Wednesday, June 9, 1971

Milwaukee said hello once again to HELLO, DOLLY! Tuesday night as musical comedy moved back where it belongs – into its ninth Melody Top season.

For the 1971 premiere, there was a new tent (red and yellow), producer (Marty Wiviott) and star (Dorothy Lamour), but there were many reliably familiar faces on stage and off.

The result was a generally satisfactory display of what the tent does best – light, bright and colorful song and dance.

And this is a dancing DOLLY! In his fifth season at the Good Hope Road address, director Stuart Bishop has devised – with returning choreographer James Smock – a series of inventive production numbers. As we've come to expect, conductor Donald Yap's 11 musicians provided a snappy reading of Jerry Herman's underrated score.

Despite the night's chill, a near-capacity audience was in a warm mood and handed "Dolly" Lamour an ovation.

The latest in the tent's line of visiting ex-movie stars, Miss Lamour displayed adequate comedic skills, polished over years next to Bob Hope (whose phoned-in cheers Wiviott read to the audience).

At times, Miss Lamour appeared to be impersonating the style and inflections of the show's original Dolly, Carol Channing. Miss Lamour's singing voice, however, was nowhere near as hefty. No one's this side of a foghorn in. So she came equipped with a wireless microphone, which usually worked fine.

As the object of Dolly's fervent suit, Horace Vandergelder, there was veteran television host Jack Bailey, who mugged and postured to the crowd's delight.

An old hand at rescuing non-singing stars, Bishop kept another strong tent chorus (described in the program as Instant Glee Club) at the ready.

After four seasons in that chorale, Joan Carvelle (Bielefeld) got major exposure for her Milwaukee-grown soprano as Mrs. Molloy. Don George (Cornelius), Virginia Seidel (Minnie Fay) and David Gary (Barnaby) also were assets.

The night had its imperfections. Letting Bailey and Gary overstate the farce sometimes cost DOLLY some charm. And assistant stage manager Craig Jacobs must redrill several left-footed scene changers.

Jack Bailey and Dorothy Lamour in HELLO, DOLLY!

Jack Bailey (Horace Vandergelder) and Dorothy Lamour (Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi) in an early scene of HELLO, DOLLY! (1971) at Melody Top.


DOLLY Warms Hearts on Cool First Night

by Tom Smith, the Waukesha Freeman, Wednesday, June 9, 1971

Teeth chattering and lips blue with cold, Dolly Gallagher Levi arrived here last night.

The durable, old matchmaker, who has survived many vicissitudes in her countless thousands of performances, might have been excused if she copped out of Milwaukee's frigid clime.

But, trouper that she is, Dolly stayed to not only win but warm the hearts of a near-capacity opening night audience at the Melody Top Theater.

The star of this HELLO, DOLLY! production is Dorothy Lamour, who achieved her popularity in the film adventures of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Though her famed sarong has long since become part of Movieland's memorabilia, Miss Lamour retains the ability to captivate and cajole.

Numerous female stars have appeared in this theatrical phenomenon. In this regard, it is only fair to report that Miss Lamour performs ably within the range of her talents.

She's not a long-ball hitter of the Carol Channing type nor does she have the slugging posture of Ethel Merman. Yet she does have the power to make the climactic scenes entertaining. And that, in the final analysis, is what the business is all about.

When she sweeps down the aisle in her brash, red gown and begins to belt out "Hello, Dolly!," who cannot be moved? Even if the moment were more dramatic on a proscenium stage and even if the voice relied heavily upon an excellent sound system, so what? Show business and sentiment have always enjoyed a close alliance.

Jack Bailey, who earned his reputation as host on television's QUEEN FOR A DAY, was enjoyable as the parsimonious Yonkers hay-and-feed baron who ultimately succumbs to Dolly's skillful scheming.

The mutton-chopped Bailey displayed a leprechaun-like quality in his comedy and, though possessing a singing voice which would sound best in the shower, disarmed the audience in "It Takes a Woman."

Bailey is a professional who knows the value of timing and understands the technique required to look relaxed while working hard.

Rounding out the supporting cast were Don George, David Gary, Joan Carvelle and Virginia Seidel.

George and Gary were superb as the hay-and-feed store employees who sneak off to New York for an evening of adventure and find more than they bargained for.

With Miss Carvelle and Miss Seidel, they turn in a show-stopping rendition of Elegance."

Incidentally, Miss Seidel was splendid as a loveable chatterbox and Miss Carvelle, who seemed tense in her initial appearance, settled down to become a definite asset as the musical progressed. One note of caution, however, Miss Carvelle should either master the Irish brogue or drop it completely.

James Smock's choreography presented the dancers with an opportunity to work off their excess energy, which they did admirably. Stuart Bishop's direction provided a fast, but not hurried, pace that kept audience and performers from shivering to death in the unseasonable cold.

Like most opening performances of the season, this one did not run with the precision envisioned by director and stage manager. Disaster was averted, if at times barely, and the stagehands will probably be given some extra drills before the next curtain call.

HELLO, DOLLY! will be at the Melody Top through June 20, with the exception of Monday. It's clean, wholesome entertainment fit for the most strait-laced member of the family. And it's fun.

Dorothy Lamour and Jack Bailey in HELLO, DOLLY!

Dorothy Lamour (Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi) and Jack Bailey (Horace Vandergelder) in the hat shop scene from HELLO, DOLLY! (1971) at Melody Top.


HELLO, DOLLY! Cast of Characters

Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi:Dorothy Lamour
Ernestina:Dorsey Vogt
Ambrose Kemper:Miche Priaulx
Horace Vandergelder:Jack Bailey
Ermengarde:Jo Jean Retrum
Cornelius Hackl:Don George
Barnaby Tucker:David Gary
Irene Molloy:Joan Carvelle
Minnie Fay:Virginia Seidel
Court Clerk:Adam Grammis
Mrs. Rose:Marlissa Griffin
Rudolph:John McEvoy
Judge:Mark Mathews

Dolly's Friends: Judy Blasi, Dennis Dohman, Tracy Friedman, Adam Grammis, Marlissa Griffin, Dennis Grimaldi, James Hamel, Rod Keuper, Clyde Laurents, Mark Mathews, John McEvoy, Susan Rush, Suzan Sidney and Candace Tovar.


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