STONINGTON — Chock-full of singing, dancing and romance, Stonington High School’s “Hello Dolly!” opens tonight for three shows this weekend.

Set in 1890, the musical tells the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a charismatic widow, socialite and matchmaker.

While working to find a match for the grumpy, wealthy Horace Vandergelder, she finds she would like to marry him herself. Mrs. Malloy, a young widowed milliner, is set to marry Vandergelder but is in love with Cornelius Hackl, an employee at Vandergelder’s Hay & Feed.

I have always been a woman who arranges things,” Dolly says, as she and her fellow characters commence on romantic misadventures and search for happy endings.

At dress rehearsal Wednesday, Erin Sousa Stanley, drama director at the high school, said she chose “Hello Dolly!” partly because she had the right actors and voices to play the roles.

“I have the most perfect cast for this show who can play these types of characters with such tenacity and such talent and such ability to touch the hearts of the audience,” she said, standing backstage among a flurry of actors and racks of costumes.

She said her actors went the extra mile to authenticate their characters by doing research about the play and the history and customs of the period.

“We also worked on how people walked in the 1800s, how people held their bodies,” she said. “It’s a whole different sense from how a typical high school student walks.”

Stanley also chose the play because role of Dolly suited actress Grace Gilbert, 18, a senior, who hopes to be on Broadway someday. “She is probably one of the most talented students I’ve ever worked with,” Stanley said.

Gilbert, who was also backstage, said she loved the role of Dolly and the changing role of women depicted in the play. Women in the 1890s were expected to stay indoors, work on the house, clean, cook and raise the children, she said.

“The thing that’s great about Dolly is that she kind of starts that revolution, so to speak. She isn’t the stereotypical woman of the time period,” Gilbert said. “She makes her own decisions. She manages Horace, she wants to show him ‘I’m your equal, you’re not my superior, I’m not your inferior.’”

Gilbert, who has been in drama productions since fifth grade, starting with “The Sound of Music,” said she was happy Dolly was her last role in high school. 

“It’s my last hurrah with Stonington and it’s really, really bittersweet,” she said. “And, Dolly is a little bit of everything — she’s a spitfire, she’s strong, she’s independent, she’s hilarious — she’s probably the funniest role I’ve played to date.”

Also backstage was Nick Turco, 17, a senior, who said his role as Horace Vandergelder was challenging because of the character’s personality traits.

“He’s not a nice man, he’s a cranky old guy and he’s a widower because his former wife died and all he cares about is the money that he has. It’s very different from what I am because I love everyone and it’s hard for me to be mean,” he said. “Acting is great because it shows how much you can do that you didn’t know you could do, singing-wise and acting-wise.”

Chloe Kolbenheyer, 15, a sophomore who plays Mrs. Malloy, said the play has a message for today.

“I love Mrs. Malloy so much because she’s so strong for a woman of her time, she doesn’t want to settle, she doesn’t want to do something she doesn’t want to do,” Kolbenheyer said. “I think this shows reflects the women’s changing roles.”

The show features original music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. The book is by Michael Stewart. "Hello, Dolly!" is a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s 1955 farce, “The Matchmaker.”

Performances will be held tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets can be purchased at shsdrama.brownpapertickets.com or at the door. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. For more information on ticketing, call 860-650-0166.

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com 

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