Something very special took place for the national touring cast of “Hello Dolly!”
The show, which says hello to San Francisco as part of SHN’s current season, recently saw the passing of the most iconic performer in its history. Currently starring Betty Buckley in the title role, the show is running now through March 17th at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre.
Carol Channing and “Hello Dolly!” are inextricably linked. Channing, who grew up in San Francisco and won the Tony Award for her performance in the show in 1964 as the charming matchmaker Dolly Levi, spent years doing the show all over the world, totaling more than five thousand performances.
But on Jan. 15th of this year at the age of 97, Channing passed away, leaving behind a body of work with the show that may never be surpassed.
Nic Rouleau, a Los Altos native who is playing Cornelius Hackl in the touring production, knew exactly where he was the moment he heard of her death.
“It was very emotional to hear the news of Carol’s passing,” said Rouleau, 32. “We were on tour in the theatre in San Diego, and there are posters backstage of the different touring productions that came through. And there was a giant poster of Carol Channing in ‘Hello Dolly!’ signed by her. Our dressing room assignments were done weeks in advance, and it was just by chance that Betty’s room was the one with the poster outside. You just can’t plan for that.
“If that wasn’t a message that Carol was there with us, I don’t know what is.”
As sad as it was for the cast to experience the loss of a person synonymous with the show, they found solace in their connection, a new generation of performers bringing a Broadway classic to the country.
“It was so emotional, and Betty gave a beautiful speech. It was such a touching moment, and I feel that our cast made the most of a difficult situation.”
Rouleau has admitted to being a superfan of the revival of “Hello Dolly!,” a production that was nominated for ten Tony awards in 2017, winning four. Those included Tonys for best revival, best costumes, featured actress for Bette Midler in the role of Dolly, and Gavin Creel for featured actor as Cornelius.
Before landing the role of Cornelius himself, Rouleau saw the show six times in New York, where he resides. For him, it’s easy to articulate what kept bringing him back.
“The words we use in the show are pure joy, which was the feeling I felt when I was watching for the first time,” said Rouleau. “Visually, the show is a piece for the eyes with beautiful spectacle and gorgeous costumes. It completely blew me away.”
Since 2012 until a year ago, Rouleau was mostly known to Broadway fans as Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon,” which he came through with the national tour back in 2014 to the SHN Orpheum Theatre. It’s a role that Creel also played for a year. And while both Creel and Rouleau are friends who have some similar performance connections, their sensibilities in the role of Cornelius are quite opposite.
“I bring a different energy. He’s more grounded, so I had to bring more maturity to my performance,” said Rouleau. “The wonderful thing about the director (Jerry Zaks) is that he built the tour from the ground up and we are able to make it our own.
“That alleviated any pressure of a carbon copy performance, trying to do something before you.”
Returning home to perform in front of family and friends is special, but there’s something extra special about this trip. As a South Bay native, Rouleau didn’t spend a ton of time in San Francisco growing up, but his family had SHN season tickets for many years. And for this tour, he has lots of plans, which include being a tourist in his native region and having real, legit sourdough bread.
Rouleau gets back home at least twice a year and is excited to see his huge family and six nieces and nephews, but he isn’t the only one working hard on this trip. His mom had plenty to do to get all the tickets in order for family and friends and has the spreadsheet to prove it.
“It’s about 50/50 exciting as it is exhausting, and knock on wood, I can’t get sick,” said Rouleau. “It’s not often I know people in the audience, but I’m proud of it and looking forward to it.”
While Rouleau will have plenty of folks in the seats who have known him for years, from his Bay Area days to the bright lights of Broadway, he and his cast mates can rest assured that there will be a very special San Franciscan in the sky watching over all of them every single night.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
SHN presents the national tour of “Hello Dolly!”
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Michael Stewart
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Based on “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder
SHN Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
Through March 17th
Tickets range from $56 – $256
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com