Broadway veterans Jeff Richmond and Jennifer Simard will appear in the Renaissance Theatre's production of "Hello, Dolly!" opening this weekend. Credit: Brittany Schock

How To Go:

"Hello, Dolly!" will be performed at the Renaissance Theatre on the following dates:

Saturday, November 11, at 7:30 PM

Sunday, November 12, at 2:30 PM

Saturday, November 18, at 7:30 PM

Sunday, November 19, at 2:30 PM

MANSFIELD — Widower, matchmaker, and meddler Dolly Gallagher Levi sings about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and embracing change in the iconic song “Before The Parade Passes By” from her namesake musical.

“Before the parade passes by, I’ve gotta get in step while there’s still time left,” she sings. “I’m ready to move out in front; life without life has no reason or rhyme left.”

The same could be said for Michael Thomas, who after 15 years will be stepping down from his post as artistic director for the Renaissance Theatre after the conclusion of “Hello, Dolly!” next weekend.

“It’ll be nice to take a step back from the official title, and it will allow people to learn from somebody else,” Thomas said.

But to be clear, at age 63, the word “retirement” is not in Thomas’ vocabulary. He will be transitioning into the role of artistic consultant for the organization.

In fact, Thomas already has a few projects in mind, including a revival of his original work “At Last: An Evening with Etta James.” However, the pace at which he’ll be working will be — mercifully — much slower.

“It really has been a wonderful dream come true.”

– Michael Thomas

“This year I directed 10 shows in 11 months, and I just can’t keep up that pace anymore,” Thomas said. “I’ve had like three days off since last January, so it’s been a great release for me to see a light at the end of the tunnel as far as working every single day.

“The Renaissance is very good about working with me to allow me more freedom to work on projects elsewhere, but also still be an important part of what we do here.”

Meanwhile, stepping into the role of interim artistic director for the Renaissance is award-winning actress, writer and educator Angela Iannone, who appeared as Phyllis Rogers Stone in the Ren’s production of “Follies” this past April.

Iannone spent most of her career in Milwaukee and Chicago, where she won the Broadway World Award, the Footlights Award and The Joseph Jefferson Award, and received grants and fellowships from the Folger Shakespeare Library and Lunt/Fontaine/Ten Chimneys. She received her undergraduate degree from Wright State University and her graduate degree from Illinois State University.

“Angela is a friend of 40 years, and she’s the person I vetted for this position. And she’s amazing,” Thomas said. “She’s incredible and she’s a working artist, and that’s important for this next generation to have the chance to work with someone like that.”

Angela Iannone during her performance as Phyllis Rogers Stone in “Follies” this past April.

Opening this weekend, “Hello, Dolly!” marks Thomas’ grand finale as artistic director. The timeless classic stars Tony-nominated actress Jennifer Simard and Emmy winner Jeff Richmond, who is also a close personal friend to Thomas.

“It really has been a wonderful dream come true,” Thomas said. “I call it my worlds colliding, my old friends meeting my young friends, and it’s been really incredible.

“For them to take the time to come here and share their talents and knowledge with us, they’ve both been so kind and generous.”

Simard, a two-time Tony nominee for “Company” and “Disaster,” and a four-time Drama Desk nominee and winner, will bring the character of Dolly Gallagher Levi to life.

This is Simard’s second performance in “Hello, Dolly!” in her career. In 2017, during the show’s fourth Broadway revival, Simard played the role of Ernestina alongside Bette Midler in the title role.

“I got a firsthand blueprint from Bette, and I am trying to do justice to what she did, and trying to do her proud,” Simard said. “I am using a great deal of what she created.”

Simard added the show brings a funny, romantic energy with a talented cast of Renaissance veterans and newcomers, including Jacob Sustersic, Leah Gesouras, Emily Bare, Joe Trolian, Madison Kearney, Noah Casner, Caroline Grace Williams, Shauna Davis, Dru Loman, Dre’lan Evans, and Bobby Morrow.

“When I look at how talented this cast is, some of these singing voices are just as good as anyone I’ve ever sung with on Broadway,” Simard said. “It is such a lovely reminder, and a lesson and source of encouragement, that you are good enough. You can, and if you want to, you should.

“It’s no different on Broadway than it is here — just maybe the budgets are bigger.”

Richmond, the Tony Award-winning composer of “Mean Girls the Musical” and a three-time Emmy Award-winning director and producer of “30 Rock,” “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and “Saturday Night Live,” plays the role of Horace Vandergelder.

“He’s a misanthropic, curmudgeonly kind of guy who thinks everyone in the world is a fool,” Richmond said. “And what we notice about him is in his journey, he is probably the biggest fool of anybody in the whole thing. But there are fools for love.”

Though Richmond has had a dazzling career in the entertainment industry, he noted he hasn’t appeared on stage in at least 25 years.

“I’m finding how hard it is to remember your lines when you have to put a costume on,” he said with a laugh. “I’m usually the person watching people act and giving them notes about things, and now I’m on the other side of it.”

Thomas said he hoped the younger actors in the cast have had a chance to learn from Simard and Richmond how professional actors work. This has certainly been the case for 18-year-old Madison Kearney, who is currently studying theatre at Kent State University.

“I’ve learned something new every day,” she said. “Just watching how they operate has been an amazing experience. I feel like in a way I’ve learned more than certain classes.”

But the biggest teacher has been Thomas himself, Kearney said. Especially since she hopes to be an educator herself one day.

“He’s probably the greatest director I’ve worked with,” she said. “Just the way he operates, I really look up to him and definitely take from what he’s given us.”

Click play to learn more about the life and career of Michael Thomas

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