Debi Ballas believes there's a little bit of Dolly Levi in everyone, and a little bit of everyone in Dolly Levi.
Although the Hello, Dolly! title role was made famous by Carol Channing, Broadway's original Dolly, the musical matchmaker has seen a variety of actresses fill her dancing shoes. Barbra Streisand was in the film version, and Pearl Bailey played the role in a couple of revivals. Performers as diverse as Betty Grable, Ethel Merman and Phyllis Diller have also played the role.
Ms. Ballas, who appears in the Augusta Players' production opening Friday at the Imperial Theatre, said one reason Hello Dolly! remains popular is that it is a role people understand as a character, rather than a specific characterization.
"It really affords the principal actors the freedom to put a lot of yourself into the performance," she said. "It's really very enjoyable."
Set in the late 19th century in Yonkers, N.Y., Dolly! was written as a period piece, with many nods and winks to period theatrics. Peter Powlus, the director of the Players' production, said those moments give him and his cast license to include a certain sense of theatricality rarely seen in contemporary musical theater.
"Those conventions written into the script, like asides delivered by actors to the audience, are never really seen in modern theater," he said. "The show, and those sort of corny conventions, really does free us up ... to do a lot of corny stuff."
The challenge, Mr Powlus said, was in mounting a large musical that requires all performers to sing and dance and act.
"There are some people that move very well in this," he said. "But it has been a challenge and, to be honest, I don't know how successful I've been. There have been at least three versions of everything I have done and, yes, it has taken some careful staging."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: HELLO, DOLLY!, presented by the Augusta Players
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.
CONTACT: (706) 826-4707, www.augustaplayers.com