Twice as terrific: Two groups to put on 'Hello, Dolly!' shows

COVINGTON — This year's Arts Association in Newton County-sponsored spring musical is a familiar production, but the Oxford Youth Singers and the Oxford Singing Children will give it a different spin.

The vocal ensembles — under the direction of Mary Lynn Luke — will present the much-decorated "Hello, Dolly!" next weekend at Porter Hall on the Newton High School campus. Due to the sheer size of both groups, Luke said they'll offer a significant alteration of the celebrated musical comedy, which debuted on Broadway in 1964 and ran for more than 2,800 performances.

"Last year, we did ‘The Wizard of Oz' as the spring musical and were able to have both groups of performers work together," Luke, who has led the Oxford Youth Singers and the Oxford Singing Children for the last seven years, said. "But this play doesn't really have a lot of scenes for big groups, so we decided to hold three performances featuring the older kids and one show with the younger kids."

The Oxford Youth Singers — comprised of performers in grades 8-12 — will stage "Hello, Dolly!" at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 14, and Friday, April 15, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 17. The Oxford Singing Children — made up of students in grades 4-7 — will offer their take on the musical at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 16.

"It's a challenge for all of us because we're basically doing two plays at one time," Luke said. "We always try to do shows that are familiar and have a lot of cast members. It makes sense because we're part of the Arts Association's subscription series, so we generally pick Broadway classics and look for something with as many lead parts as possible."

Previous Luke-directed spring musicals have included "The Wizard of Oz," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Guys & Dolls," "The Music Man," "Bye Bye Birdy" and "Oklahoma!"

"When we had our first spring musical, there were about 25 students in the Oxford Youth Singers," Luke, who taught in the Rockdale County School District for 20 years, 17 of those at Heritage High School, said. "This year we have 65 students in that group, so we were looking for large group scenes and dance numbers. We want to give every student the opportunity to sing and dance."

Based on Thorton Wilder's "The Matchmaker," "Hello, Dolly!" arrived on the Great White Way with Carol Channing in the titular role of Dolly Levi, the meddlesome widow loved by all of New York. While thought to be quite affluent, Dolly lives hand to mouth and is expert at a host of occupations, including dance instructor and hat maker.

But it's as a matchmaker that Dolly flourishes, and her attempt to find a suitable bride for the cantankerous Horace Vandergelder makes for quite a musical story, as evidenced by its long run on Broadway, its 10 Tony Awards and its multiple spinoff productions, including a 1969 feature film starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau, which won three Oscars.

Luke said that Amanda Stansfield, a senior at Eastside High School, will play the role of Dolly in the Oxford Youth Singers' production and Delaney Murphy, a seventh-grader at Cousins Middle School will be Dolly in the Oxford Singing Children's version of "Hello, Dolly!"

Stansfield has been part of the singing groups for nine years, and Luke said she's great for the part, which she now shares with iconic figures like Channing, Streisand, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Pearl Bailey and Phyllis Diller, all of whom have played Dolly Levi.

"She's going to be great," Luke said of Stansfield. "She's a great actress and quite a singer. We've actually had a bit of a challenge because we've had to change the key for Dolly's songs because the book was written for Carol Channing's voice, and students really can't sing in her key."

The two groups also perform each December at the annual "Christmas in Covington" choral concert at Covington First United Methodist Church, and Luke said she hasn't yet figured out what next year's spring musical will be.

"I've got a few ideas, and we're working on it, but no decisions have been made yet," she said. "I like it because one of the goals of the group is to expose kids to different ways they can use music and vocal music as a hobby, a vocation or an avocation.

"So in the fall we focus on reading music, singing harmony, singing in other languages and singing different styles of music. And then in the second half of the year they get to use their voices in the genre of musical theater to experiment with. It's a great combination."

The Arts Association of Newton County, with Beaver Manufacturing, Acuity Brands Lighting, Bridgestone Golf and Bank of North Georgia, will present the Oxford Youth Singers and the Oxford Singing Children in a production of "Hello, Dolly!" The Oxford Youth Singers will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 14, Friday, April 15, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 17. The Oxford Singing Children will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 16. Tickets are $15, $10 for seniors and $5 for students and can be purchased by calling 770-786-8188 or by visiting www.newtoncountyarts.org.