“5Q” is an online-only column featuring five questions about stage productions in the Metro Area. Periodically, “5Q” will take the form of an interview with actors, directors, writers, etc. to shed some light on the production process.
Broadway legend Betty Buckley takes the stage as matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi when Hello, Dolly! makes its stop in Minneapolis. The Tony-winning revival (including Best Musical Revival) follows the original musical’s ongoing history as an iconic piece of American theater.
Ian Liberto has his work made out for him as dance captain, swing, and understudy for Cornelius Hackl. A Broadway heavyweight in his own right, Liberto’s Broadway credits include Promises Promises, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Chaplin, and Billy Elliot along with the national tours of The Book of Mormon, A Chorus Line, Evita, and Billy Elliot.
You’ve toured quite a bit in your career—what do you always have to bring with you and what do you always do in a new city?
Ian Liberto: In my spare time, I’m always in the kitchen. Cooking for me is a way to relax, so I’m often staying in Airbnb’s and not hotels. I carry my own kitchen tools when I’m on tour. Not just knives, but a zester, peeler, whisk, spatulas etc. There’s nothing that frustrates me more than getting to a kitchen and not being able to cook the way I’d like to. The first thing I do when I get to a new city is head straight to the grocery store and stock up. And then the gym. Because balance, right?
Hello, Dolly! is one of the great classic musicals and you’ve said yourself that you’ve always felt more at home in older musicals. With such a growth in the popularity of contemporary musicals, what about this show makes it continue to live on?
IL: It’s hard to describe. When you strip away the song and dance, and when you get to the meat of the story, it’s about loss. It’s about finding your way in a complicated, fast-paced world, while learning how to survive and carve out a life for yourself as someone who has suffered loss. I think that’s a theme many people can relate to. And, on top of that, there is this nostalgic glow about our production that washes over you as an audience member. There are no LED screens, no videos, no crazy moving sets. The costumes are vivacious, technicolored, and nuanced, the sets are enormous and fully realized, the drops are all hand painted and lush. You sit there and think “this is what the golden age of Broadway was…I get it now.”
You were cast in the Dolly revival with Bette Midler in the title role. You’ve also worked with names like Kristin Chenoweth, Sean Hayes, and Bernadette Peters. Even though you’ve been performing for years and know the business, what do you take away from working with legends like that?
IL: I have been so fortunate. A lot of that is ‘right place right time.’ I owe much of my career to Rob Ashford, who gave me my debut in Promises, Promises with Kristin and Sean, and the next year I joined How To Succeed… and within four months I had performed with Daniel Radcliffe, Daren Criss, and Nick Jonas in the title role. There is an enormous responsibility of being that famous and leading a Broadway musical. The entire building of a Broadway show becomes a family. All departments are working in very close quarters for many hours a week. You become the leader of the pack—the cruise director, whether you want to be or not. I have learned a lot about leading, about generosity, about graciousness and humility. I’ve also learned a lot about how I DON’T want to treat people. I will add that Fraser is my favorite sitcom and I was gagged that I got to work with David Hyde Pierce. I had always heard he was the nicest guy in show business and I can’t reiterate enough what an understatement that was.
As dance captain, swing, and an understudy, most theater-goers probably don’t realize the vast number of roles you have to be familiar with and ready to step into on any given night. Preparing for one role is a lot of work, so how do you approach the challenge of multiple?
IL: Being a swing is not an easy job. And because I’m good at it, it’s probably the reason I’ve worked so much. A lot of performers specifically tell casting agents they won’t accept the job if it’s as a swing. In the Broadway company, I covered 15 men in the ensemble not including Cornelius—the most I’ve ever covered. At any given point I have to be ready to step in for everyone. Being a dance captain makes it a little easier because I watch the show often, I have a working knowledge of all of the choreography and so I am better equipped to navigate the show in a pinch. I prefer at least an hour’s notice, but I’ve gone in with five minutes notice and often mid-show for an injury. It helps to think of the show in terms of geometry. I visualize the formations from over head and I’m always thinking about my next two positions and how I get there… all the while with a smile on my face and singing and dancing.
Betty Buckley has said that even though this is a tour, they’re not cutting any corners in the production value. What can audiences expect from taking such a lush, immersive musical on the road?
IL: Of course the touring production of any big show is going to be a little different, if only because every piece of set has to fit into a semi-truck trailer. But the changes we’ve made to the tour aren’t changes any average audience member would notice, they simply exist in construction so that each set unit can be taken apart and travelled. All of Santo Laquasto’s sets and costumes you see in the road production are what we had on Broadway. And the local orchestra that we pick up in each city is massive and playing the full orchestrations from Broadway.
Hello, Dolly! runs at the Orpheum Theatre April 16–28. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to www.hennepintheatretrust.org.