Dolly Levi, matchmaker extraordinaire, is practicing the art she performs best: captivating audiences. Portrayed by Broadway veteran Nancy Opel, the crafty gal of a certain age weaves her web of intrigue to snare cantankerous Horace Vandergelder, finding romance for his niece and shop clerks along her circuitous route. Her vehicle is ÒHello, Dolly,Ó the musical that had its pre-Broadway tryout in Washington and was last seen here 20 years ago. It has been reinvented by director Eric Schaeffer for FordÕs Theatre, where its showstopping numbers will resound through May.

ÒI love DollyÕs sense of humor, even though she is on her own at a time in history when women stayed at home,Ó Opel said. ÒShe is trying to help others and find a place for herself at the same time, making it up as she goes. Like Mama Rose in ÔGypsyÕ and the title role in ÔMame,Õ itÕs one of the top three roles for women. IÕve never played it before and IÕm finding it so much fun.Ó

This is OpelÕs debut at FordÕs Theatre. A native of Kansas and a graduate of the Juilliard School, she has been a Broadway mainstay for many years. Her credits include ÒMemphis,Ó ÒGypsy,Ó ÒFiddler on the Roof,Ó ÒUrinetownÓ Ñ for which she received a Tony nomination Ñ ÒTriumph of Love, ÒAnything Goes,Ó ÒSunday in the Park with GeorgeÓ and many others. For her recent portrayal of three characters in the rock musical ÒThe Toxic Avenger,Ó she received nominations from Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics and Lortel. The highlight of her first national tour was playing the title role in ÒThe Drowsy Chaperone.Ó When she is not performing onstage, in film or on television, she is a singing and acting coach.

Like most actors, her heart belongs to the stage. She says performing in small television studios seems more confining and less comfortable. Although many actors prefer television for the opportunity to do something new regularly, she regards the camera as a great black hole coming at her, with long waits between each take. Despite that, she has appeared in a number of shows, including ÒLaw & Order,Ó ÒRyanÕs HopeÓ and ÒOne Life to Live.Ó The opportunity to go on tour in ÒThe Drowsy ChaperoneÓ popped up unexpectedly and piqued her interest.

ÔHello, Dolly!Õ
È Where: FordÕs Theatre, 511 10th St. NW
È When: Through May 18
È Info: $15 to $90; 800-982-2787;

ÒI had never before gone on a tour because I wanted to stay home while raising my family,Ó she said. ÒNow that theyÕre grown and IÕm a tourist who likes to get out and see things, I thought it would be great fun to see the USA. We pleased the crowds wherever we went, and I especially loved seeing the towns on our free days enjoying the wonderful regional food. After that experience, I was thrilled when the opportunity to play at FordÕs came up. IÕve never played in Washington, so I began reading up on all the sights to see. As an amateur photographer, IÕm coming at just the right season for the cherry blossoms. There will be lots of time to enjoy them with the showÕs long run.

ÒI love the nontraditional way ÔHello, DollyÕ is staged. The main set is an old-fashioned train station. As needed, little set pieces of the different places we go move smoothly into place. Because the cast is smaller than the original, we donÕt have an ensemble of merry villagers, but Eric has made everything about the show welcoming so we donÕt miss them.

ÒEdward Gero and I have a nice time working together. He just finished playing Scrooge before taking on Horace, another crusty character. We both love playing to school groups and families. At our final dress rehearsal, I saw a little boy about five 5 old sitting through this two-hour musical and enjoying himself immensely.

ÒThis is the perfect show for discovering FordÕs Theatre and falling in love with theater. ItÕs a great American legacy with such a communal aspect that audiences quickly become involved. WeÕre so used to sitting in front of screens that many newcomers leave the theater so excited about what they have experienced they canÕt wait to come again and see more. Best of all, there are always a few who say, ÔI want to do that!Õ Ó