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Hello Dolly, Hello Nancy Wagner

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By Dana Mate
Collegiate Staff Writer

Dolly Levi is an object of transfixion when she gracefully and seductively parades about in her sparkling red gown at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant/bar/dance club. For a red-head, garments of this hue are generally discouraged, but Dolly is one of very few characters, on and off stage, that has the clout and presence to successfully pull off such an extreme and dominating  gown.

Her outlandish wardrobe, however, is just a side note to the succession of impossible accomplishments Nancy Wagner, who played Dolly Levi, carries out. The play that ran at the Civic Theatre from February 25 to March 20 revolves around Wagner’s character, and her peculiar job of arranging peoples lives.

Constantly promoting herself as everything from a dance instructor to interior designer to matchmaker, Dolly’s character is determined to manipulate the people around her into doing the things she wishes them to do, but believing they arrived at the outcome of their own accord. Her main goal through the entire play is to cuckold the wealthy miser Horace Vandergelder into asking her to marry him.

Wagner, an acting instructor at GRCC’s Spectrum theatre carries out the manipulative character with such ease audiences would think she has been doing this her entire life.
After a brief attempt at “making it” as a professional actor in Los Angeles, Wagner returned to the mid-west and took work as a paralegal. Returning to school at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, she rediscovered her love for the theatre and quickly made herself indispensable in the theatre community in Grand Rapids and through the program at GRCC.
Wagner’s character is not only clever but determined which seems to be the blueprint for a manipulating but charming woman. The manipulation may be a hard characteristic for Wagner to relate to, but with her experience and expertise she properly relates to the ostentatious Dolly.

“You always have to tell the story,” Wagner said. “I have to see something that I can relate to. I can find things in her that I can relate to then I become part of a bigger story.”

Throughout the play, Dolly exhibits an admirable amount of control over people she plans to use in her scheming, appearing at most times as a mastermind set on her goal of marrying a wealthy miser.  It’s here that Wagner really shines though. Her ability to turn what could have been a one-dimensional character into the audience-adored figure of Dolly is what made the show a success.

Wagner feels these acting chops are vital to anyone hoping to succeed in business and other careers that would do well with a background in public speaking. She believes it’s also the moral lesson that serves students well in future vocations.

“Some background in theatre gives you a leg up in corporate America,” Wagner said. “That’s what I teach my students inn acting classes. Taking an acting class can teach you to empathize, and what we’re learning is how to place ourselves in another persons shoes.”

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