Interview: Mimi Lo - Hello, Dolly!

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When Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! premiered on Broadway in 1964, it instantly became theatre gold. A record-smashing 10 Tony Awards trotted out, followed by revivals and productions across the globe (silver screen star Silvia Pinal starred in Mexico City’s 1996 ¿Qué tal Dolly?). But perhaps the most popular reincarnation is the 1969 film featuring Barbra Streisand and Louis Armstrong, and this is the version that Hong Kong-actress and singer Mimi Lo, formerly of TVB, turned to when she was cast as Dolly Levi in this month’s HKRep production of the classic.

“She’s my idol,” says Lo of Streisand. “I loved her performance in the film. Dolly just likes helping people and matching couples – and she’s just a woman who wants to have a new love life after the death of her late husband.” As the show opens, the widowed Dolly is returning to New York, supposedly to find a wife for the miserly, wealthy Horace Vandergelder. Dolly sees herself as the best candidate for this role and, along with plenty of other matchmaking balls in the air and a few giant musical numbers, she charms her way back to the Big Apple and into Horace’s heart.

Despite being a mature and experienced singer and actress, Lo says she finds the task of the all-singing, all-dancing, high-energy role of Dolly a challenge. She describes this musical as a real learning curve, helped by co-star and former HKAPA classmate Pichead Amornsomboon, who plays Dolly’s love interest, and artistic director Anthony Chan. Both are part of HKRep’s regular staff and cast, and are joined by more than 60 performers as well as a live band on stage. This is perhaps HKRep and the Cultural Centre’s (which celebrates its 25th anniversary with this production) largest production over the past year. The musical is adapted into Cantonese by the HKRep team and although the original Hello, Dolly! features American slang from the 1920s, the new Cantonese script is just as funny as it incorporates slang familiar to Hong Kong audiences.

One wouldn’t automatically consider the character of Dolly as being synonymous with the modern feminist – but Lo disagrees. Although Dolly may be initially viewed as a gold-digger, Lo explains that by the end of the story, true determination to change one’s life prevails – and Hello, Dolly! is as much about tackling the shadows of the past and freeing oneself as it is about the high life. “Our director said to us: this woman just wants to open the other door,” says Lo. “She just wants to enjoy life once again.”

Lo identifies strongly with Dolly as she mentions her own father passed away last year and she found herself with a choice: stay stuck in grief or move on. “I had the same thoughts – I have to move forward,” she says. Another major similarity between the actress and the character is one of sheer determination, of being active and not passive. “Look at Dolly – not passive at all!” says Lo. “A lot of the time, women fall in love but they’re so shy. I chased my husband! I think this musical has this message: don’t be shy and don’t close yourself. Just be open. If you love him, tell him! It’s a chance for you to change your life.”

Hello, Dolly! Jan 17-25, Cultural Centre, Grand Theatre. Tickets: $160-$420; urbtix.hk.

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