LTVB Hello Dolly Star Celebrates 40 Years in HR Theatre
Words and Images Courtesy Little Theatre of Virginia Beach
The role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, the title character of the classic musical comedy “Hello, Dolly!” is not a role that is played; it is a role that is earned. It is a role embodied by some of the most respected performers, like Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Barbara Streisand, Bette Middler, and Bernadette Peters. It’s only fitting that the role in the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach production should go to a multi-hyphenate celebrating 40 years in local theatre, Karen Buchheim.
Just like Dolly has “always been a woman who arranges things” with a seemingly endless supply of business cards promoting her multiple services (matchmaking, financial consultation, dance lessons, etc.), Buchheim could easily boast the same for her various contributions to the theatre. For example, she is the show’s choreographer in addition to playing Dolly. “When you see her character teaching others to waltz, know that she was actually giving the entire cast ballroom dance lessons in rehearsals,” said director Robert Shirley. Besides performing and choreographing, Buchheim directs and serves as the costume chair on the board of directors. She was also board president for five years and box office chair in the past.
Theatre wasn’t always Buchheim’s focus. “I was a surgical nurse for 15 years. I loved it and was very happy with my husband and two wonderful children, but still, something was missing. I had always wanted to dance, but was unable to afford lessons in the past,” said Buchheim. “So, I realized I had to take a dance class. It sparked something. I went back to college and earned my degree in dance and theatre at Old Dominion University.” Buchheim then went on to own a dance studio and served 22 years in the gifted education program for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
Buchheim was first bitten by the theatre bug in the 1981 Riverview Theater in Norfolk production of “George M.” Since then, she has been a part of about 90 shows. This is her first time doing “Hello, Dolly!” though. The roles she has enjoyed playing the most were Laura the choreographer character in “A Chorus Line,” Madame Armfeldt in “A Little Night Music,” Emily Brent in Agatha Christie’s “Then There Were None,” Penny in “You Can’t Take it With You,” and mother of the bride Judy in “It Shoulda Been You.” Buchheim’s all-time favorite was playing Lola in “Damn Yankees.” Her off-stage favorites include choreographing “42nd Street” and directing “Side Show” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” She has won three Portfolio Awards- Best Supporting Actress for “Over the River and Through the Woods” and two for choreography.
When it comes to choreography, Buchheim’s specialty is tap dancing. “If you are going to see a show with tap anywhere in Hampton Roads, it’s going to be one of Karen’s shows at Little Theatre of Virginia Beach,” said Erin Matteson, assistant choreographer. Buchheim has a unique way of teaching beginner’s tap. She feels so strongly that anyone can learn, that she has a patented system called “Tappinese®” which utilizes characters, like dashes, periods, and carets to represent certain tap moves, like a shuffle, flap, or ball change. Anyone can view her “Skills and Drills” tap lessons and see Tappinese in action on the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach website or YouTube channel.
Even after 40 years in theatre, Buchheim has no intention of slowing down. “It’s my happy place,” she said. “I just love the people that come my way. To see their characters develop and watch them grow is such a delight. People think Broadway is the end-all of theatre and that if you don’t make it there, that’s it. But, there’s so much more besides that. If you love to sing, dance, act, meet people, you can do that right here. If you have the heart, there’s no reason to give up.”
When Dolly sings “tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days” in the show’s title song, you know for Buchheim, it will be true for years to come.
“Hello, Dolly!” runs five weekends, November 12 through December 12. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm. Tickets are available online at ltvb.com. They are $20 for adults; $18 for full-time students, active military, and seniors age 60 and up; or $10 for children age 12 and under. Patrons may order snacks, water, soda, or alcoholic drinks (age 21 and up) when purchasing tickets online or in person. Parking is free in the lot or on the street. Patrons are required to follow the theatre’s health guidelines found at ltvb.com/covid, which include wearing masks and showing proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test for those with exceptions.