Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sheri Gross to perform in Musical Theater Project’s “Behind the Musical: Hello, Dolly!”

Combine the talents of Bill Rudman, Artistic Director of The Musical Theater Project (TMTP), music director Nancy Maier, singers Ann Gilbert, Jared Leal, Jessica Cope Miller, Shane Patrick O’Neill, and the talents of Sheri Gross, with composer-lyricist Jerry Herman’s marvelous score.  The results?  “Behind the Musical:  Hello, Dolly!”  The production, co-sponsored by Chagrin Arts, will be staged on April 26 at 3 at Chagrin Falls High School Performing Arts Center.

As Rudman says, “We’ll be telling a darn good story,” which may surprise many because, in the words of Herman, “doing that musical [“Hello Dolly”]was the most difficult time in my career.”

Former New York actress Sheri Gross is the Artistic Director of Playmakers Youth Theatre, the award winning inclusive theater program sponsored by the Jewish Community Center.   The Rochester, New York native became involved in Playmakers in a serendipitous manner.  She came to the area when a fellow actor asked her to come with him while he did an acting gig at JCC.

She became friends with Elaine Rembrandt, then-JCC cultural arts director, who asked her to stay and help with the organization’s day camp.  Gross agreed, and the rest is history.  Now, almost twenty years later, married, with three children, she is “here to stay.”

Though noted locally as a director, she says, “My strength as a director is developing characters.  Staging was never my strength.”

She looks forward to her stint performing Dolly. “I haven’t done a lot of performing lately. Coming back to perform and also educate at the same time, is great!”

Gross, who has never performed as Dolly before, became involved in the project when Rudman called and offered her the role. 

Is she concerned that the audience will expect a Carol Channing characterization as Dolly?  In a recent interview she said, “hopefully audiences would understand that I am not Channing.”  In addition, she notes that this is not a fully blocked show, “it is a concert version and a testimony to some of the creative team.  There is talking about the show and its conceiver.”  “This is an opportunity to not only “see” the play, but to learn about it.”  “That somewhat takes the focus off Dolly.”

As for her favorite song in the score, “I really like ‘Before the Parade Passes By.’  It’s a great song for a belter.”  She also likes “Love is Only Love,” a ballad that was added to the movie version.

After so many years of being a director, is the switch to being a performer going to be a challenge for Gross?    She stated, “Bill uses multi-media, little staging, he stresses a lot of character development.  That lets me work on my own vocal and facial expression.”

If one of her students was playing the role of Dolly Levi, what advice would Gross give her?  “I think that the character has a lot of layers.  She’s not only comedic but filled with vulnerability.  She would have to dig for the emotions to play.  The character isn’t just a funny belter, there is a lot more to her.”

The Musical Theater Project is partnering with The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage which will offer a free screening of “Words & Music by Jerry Herman,” a PBS documentary on Sunday, March 29 at The Maltz.  (Call 216-595-0575 or visit MaltzMuseum.org for details.  The Mandel Jewish Community Center will present a free screening of the 1969 “Hello Dolly,” featuring Barbara Streisand on Sunday April 19 @ 2 pm in the Stonehill Auditorium.  Call 216-831-0700 X 1348 or email ideas@maddeljcc.org, for tickets.

To see Sheri Gross in “Behind the Musical:  Hello, Dolly!” on Sunday April 26 @ 3 call 216-245-8687 or go online to musicaltheaterproject.org.