Backstage Secrets to Directing a Hit Revival by Hello, Dolly! Director, Jerry Zaks
Jerry Zaks is regarded as a ‘master of the revival’ and rightfully so. He has four Best Revival Tony Awards, and two nominations under his name. He won Tony Awards for his direction for Guys & Dolls, Six Degrees of Separation, Lend Me a Tenor, and The House of Blue Leaves. How does he achieve these feats, and what is the key to his success? Here is what he had to say:
“The task is the same – to tell the story. If you tell the story honestly and passionately and skillfully, then you’ll avoid upstaging the material with your own directorial stamp. I think sometimes people – in an attempt to find a way to do an old show—compromise the story of the show and sometimes also the tone. If it’s a good show, you have the benefit of someone else’s trial and error process and you’d be silly not to pay attention to it.”
Zaks further claims, “I don’t like the word revivals. It suggests resuscitating something that’s near death or something. What I try to do is pretend that it was written yesterday and given to me today.”
These principles and mindset have helped Zaks cement his name as an influential figure in the theatre performance industry. Zaks has won the Best Revival Tony Award for his efforts with Anything Goes in 1987, Guys & Dolls in 1992, La Cage Aux Folles in 2004, and Hello, Dolly! in 2017. The latter is probably Zaks’ most successful revival as evidenced by his enthusiasm, the wide industry acclamation, and the ongoing national tour, which features Betty Midler as the lead role and David Hyde Pierce.
Zacks recalls: “When I was a kid, in 1964, or ‘65, just after I sort of started getting interested in the theater as an actor, I went to see that Hello Dolly with Carol Channing. And I fell in love with that show so hard I went back to see it two more times. I always dreamed of being able to do something that did to an audience what that show did to me. It portrays simultaneous love stories, all of which are life and death. When it’s life and death, and it’s well written, the result is funny, and the results are funny. And the big result is that the audience falls in love with these characters as they pursue their goals. I mean, Cornelius wants to get kissed. Dolly wants to land Horace. As long as you’re making that happen, the opportunities for comedy just present themselves.”
He goes on to say that stage production gives a narrative an urgency that is not possible with movies – the entire atmosphere is electric.
More recently, Zaks has directed musicals and play such as A Bronx Tale The Musical and Meteor Shower. His work helps keep stage performance alive.