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40 Suffolk actors come together for Hello Dolly! musical at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds





Christian Jenner takes us back to 1890s New York and that meddling matchmaker, Dolly Levi.

Irving Stage Company returns to the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds with Jerry Herman’s effervescent Broadway musical, Hello, Dolly!

The show reunites local people who have performed together for years, bringing them full circle in different roles and shows but with the same community atmosphere.

Dolly and Horace - Jackie and Chris Strahm
Dolly and Horace - Jackie and Chris Strahm

Hello, Dolly! is set in 1890s New York, where meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi brings three couples together while plotting her own marriage to the grumpy half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder.

Based on a farce by Thornton Wilder, the show has been revived multiple times since its Broadway premiere in 1964, and was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1969.

Famous “Dollies” have included Carol Channing, who originated the role, Ethel Merman, and more recently Bette Midler; as well as Barbra Streisand in the film.

The cast of the Irving Stage Company production of Hello Dolly prepare for their shows at the Theatre Royal
The cast of the Irving Stage Company production of Hello Dolly prepare for their shows at the Theatre Royal

For Irving, husband and wife Chris and Jackie Strahm play the lead roles of Horace and Dolly.

Off stage both are nurses, Chris as an operating theatre practitioner at the West Suffolk Hospital; and Jackie as service manager for the named nurse safeguarding children team at Suffolk County Council.

Despite their busy professional lives, both have long experience of working with local theatre companies, and met in a Bury St Edmunds Operatic and Dramatic Society (BSEODS) production of Calamity Jane shortly after Chris arrived in the UK from the US in 1996.

Chris said: “I have been in the show before, 22 years ago, playing Cornelius Hackl, who is Vandergelder’s clerk and falls in love with a hat shop owner, Irene Molloy. Then I was playing opposite Sian Couture as Irene, and now Sian is our director and choreographer for this Irving production.”

Rudolf Reisenweber (Ash Seaborne) with waiters and cooks
Rudolf Reisenweber (Ash Seaborne) with waiters and cooks

When Chris and Sian played the couple in that earlier production, teenager Marc Kerr was alongside them on stage at the Theatre Royal, as a waiter in the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, where Dolly is famously serenaded in the title song of the show.

Now taking on the lead role of the romantic, impulsive Cornelius, Marc is one of a number of people in the show who were members of Suffolk Young People’s Theatre that have gone on to perform as adults with Irving and other companies.

Among them are Ben Young and Emily Hunt, as another couple matched by Dolly, Barnaby Tucker and Minnie Fay. Katie Woodhouse takes on the role of young widow Irene, who falls for Cornelius when Dolly engineers their meeting. A newcomer to Irving, 18-year-old Iona Griffey plays Ermengarde, Vandergelder’s wailing ward, constantly weeping over her forbidden love for Ambrose Kemper, played by Craig Fisher.

The 37-strong cast and live orchestra are under the musical direction of Philip Shaw. The catchy score includes well-loved song and lively dance numbers: Put on Your Sunday Clothes, Before the Parade Passes By and It Only Takes a Moment, as well as the title song.

Sian Couture last directed in 2019/2020, preparing for Irving’s production of Chicago, which sadly had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.

“I was really looking forward to getting back into the director’s chair,” she said. “It has been such a pleasure and I am incredibly proud of each and every cast member; there is a great camaraderie and team feeling. While many of us have worked together in shows across the years, even grown up together in some cases, it’s very encouraging that we have also welcomed new members, joining Irving for Dolly.”

Sian added: “Philip Shaw was the MD of Me and My Girl, the first amateur production I was in at the Theatre Royal, and I was in the cast of several other musicals with him as MD. I have always wanted to collaborate with him as part of the creative team on a show since then so this is an ambition realised. I’m not sure if Philip feels the same!”

Minnie, Barnaby, Irene and Cornelius (Emily Hunt, Ben Young, Katie Woodhouse and Marc Kerr)
Minnie, Barnaby, Irene and Cornelius (Emily Hunt, Ben Young, Katie Woodhouse and Marc Kerr)
Chris Haworth and Sally Boulter
Chris Haworth and Sally Boulter
Rudolf Reisenweber and Dolly (Ash Seaborne and Jackie Strahm)
Rudolf Reisenweber and Dolly (Ash Seaborne and Jackie Strahm)
Minnie Fay and Irene Molloy (Emily Hunt and Katie Woodhouse)
Minnie Fay and Irene Molloy (Emily Hunt and Katie Woodhouse)
Dolly on the staircase at Bannatyne's
Dolly on the staircase at Bannatyne's
Barnaby Tucker and Cornelius (Ben Young and Marc Kerr)
Barnaby Tucker and Cornelius (Ben Young and Marc Kerr)
Dolly (Jackie Strahm) with Minnie, Barnaby, Irene and Cornelius (Emily Hunt, Ben Young, Katie Woodhouse and Marc Kerr)
Dolly (Jackie Strahm) with Minnie, Barnaby, Irene and Cornelius (Emily Hunt, Ben Young, Katie Woodhouse and Marc Kerr)
Dolly and Horace - Jackie and Chris Strahm
Dolly and Horace - Jackie and Chris Strahm
Horace - Chris Strahm and Ernestina - Iona Griffey
Horace - Chris Strahm and Ernestina - Iona Griffey
Ernestina and Ambrose (Iona Griffey and Craig Fisher)
Ernestina and Ambrose (Iona Griffey and Craig Fisher)
The cast of the Irving Stage Company production of Hello Dolly prepare for their shows at the Theatre Royal
The cast of the Irving Stage Company production of Hello Dolly prepare for their shows at the Theatre Royal
Barnaby Tucker, Horace Vandergelder and Cornelius Hack (Ben Young, Chris Strahm and Marc Kerr)
Barnaby Tucker, Horace Vandergelder and Cornelius Hack (Ben Young, Chris Strahm and Marc Kerr)
The ladies in the cast show off their hats
The ladies in the cast show off their hats

Also in the cast is veteran performer Stan Chamberlain, who has been appearing with local companies since 1975, and believes he has worked with almost everyone in Hello, Dolly!

“I was in Me and My Girl with Sian in 1995, and this April we were both in the Irving’s production of the same show,” he said.

Hello, Dolly! takes a cast of lively characters from the small town of Yonkers to 14th Street in New York City, where the widowed Dolly causes mayhem as she manages people on the path to true love and sets her sights on a new future with Horace.

“This is a funny, heartwarming and uplifting show,” said Sian. “We are so excited to be bringing it to the beautiful Theatre Royal and have the thrill of performing to a live audience.”

Hello, Dolly!, sponsored by Guardtech Group, is at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds from Tuesday, November 8 to Saturday, November 12. Evenings at 7.30pm, Saturday matinee at 2pm.

Tickets via the box office (01284 769505), theatreroyal.org and irvingstagecompany.co.uk

All pictures: Andy Abbott at Bannatyne Health Club and Spa in Bury St Edmunds