Harvey - Classic Theatre, Lifelong Impact
Harvey was originally released in 1950, starring James “Jimmy” Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd. Another version came out in 1996 as a made-for-tv movie featuring Harry Anderson as Elwood, and Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Chumley. Harvey is a part of the Lofte history too, as this is not the first time that we have performed the show. In our original production, Dale Crosby performed as Elwood. Dale has since passed away, and his name has been attributed to our volunteer awards that can be seen just inside the doors to the theater. Many folks in the cast and crew have come into contact with this show as well, one way or another! For some, it was their first time, but for others, they’ve either seen or been in the show before.
Christa Dunker plays Ruth Kelly, the nurse, and she has been in Harvey before, the first time being in 2012 when she played Myrtle Mae. And while she loved making friends in the cast her first time, she has loved making new friends and enjoying fun rehearsals this time around. She also says that this version has more comedic bits! Christa relates to the show a bit as she had some imaginary friends as a child. “I would say the show encourages imagination,” says Christa, “and embracing the curiosities of the people you love.”
However, Christa is not the only cast member who has shared the stage with the six-and-a-half-foot-tall rabbit before. Long-time Born-in-a-Barn player, Betty Colbert has also been in Harvey previously, though this time she gets to keep her name as she portrays Betty Chumley. When she had been in Harvey previously, she played Ethel Chavenet. Betty was a senior in high school at the time and that was her first part in a full-length straight play. However, she loves playing Betty Chumley, as she’s bubbly but mostly very kind. Betty says that Harvey looks at the good in the world. “Joy, self-expression, kindness, and the importance of family. I believe everyone might see different things, [in this play], but that’s my take. That’s the beauty of great literature.”
Stephanie Porter gets to play two roles in Harvey, one on stage as Miss Johnson, and one off-stage, as the stage manager. Interestingly, this is the second time that Stephanie will be playing a maid in a play! She was set to play Mrs. Chumley years ago, but the production was canceled, so she never got to perform. But she is excited to be back, meet new people, and watch the show come to life. After Harvey closes, Stephanie is looking forward to going to Boston to attend MIT’s graduation ceremony where her daughter has earned a master’s degree in Astronautics and Aeronautics and is working on her doctorate.
John Payton plays Judge Gaffney and it was his love of old movies that drew him to Harvey, for though he had never been in the production, he had seen the 1950 release before playing this role. But his favorite part of being in the show has been reconnecting to community theater. “Harvey is about acceptance of people as they are rather than trying to force everyone into our idea of what normal is,” John says. “I believe that we need more of that in the world.”
Dr. William Chumley is played by Scott Clark who saw the show in 1981. Scott’s father, Dr. David M. Clark, taught speech and theater at Nebraska Wesleyan University from 1962 to 1999. In the ’60s the theater building was a repurposed army theater that had been transported to the campus from a military base in Kansas with classrooms added on. That theater was later torn down and a new theater opened in 1981. As a celebration, the school put on Harvey with most of the roles filled by the theater staff, rather than students. Scott’s father played Judge Gaffney in the production that only ran for 6 performances. Scott has been working to find plays that have a past connection to his dad since he rejoined the theater world in 2014 and he is so happy to have the opportunity to perform in Harvey, a show that his father did 41 years ago. (Up next, he hopes to be in a production of Waiting for Godot!) Scott typically can be found in the Lincoln Community playhouse, but has enjoyed the opportunity to work in a new-to-him facility with new friends! Scott says, “I hope that anyone in our audience who can still identify with Elwood’s sense of innocence and openness will be able to connect to this play and enjoy its timeless message.”
Our Taxi Driver, E.J. Lofgren is played by Matt Jarvis who has never been in Harvey but has enjoyed the show since childhood. His favorite part of the process so far has just been being on stage. He’s able to cross something off of his bucket list by being in this particular play. He believes that this play is a blueprint for life. “I’ve enjoyed living my life using the principles of Elwood P. Dowd,” says Matt. “In this world, you must be oh, so smart, or oh, so pleasant. I recommend pleasant.”
Myrtle Mae Simmons is played by Natalie McGovern. A newcomer to the story of Harvey, but not to the Lofte stage, Natalie has enjoyed the rehearsal process, especially diving into a completely different era with new vernacular and social norms, but so enjoyable! As Ms. Nebraska United States in 2014, mental health awareness was her platform during her year of service, so it has been especially interesting for her to see how this play brings mental health conditions to light, especially for the time it’s set in. “This show is full of little twists, turns, and surprises, and it will certainly entertain!” says Natalie. “Harvey is charming in every way!”
Neal Herring, who plays Elwood P. Dowd had not experienced Harvey until joining this production but had only seen parts of the movie version years ago. He has found the rehearsals to be fun, but demanding, and was surprised at how complicated everything gets! However, he loves this show. “It’s about a man that has survived some type of personal trauma,” Neal says, “yet exists in his world happier and more content than anyone else. He truly loves the experiences he has no matter how big or how small. Elwood is a good man!”
We agree that Elwood is a good man. It could be said that he isn’t just a good man, but brings out the good in those around him as well. Well, he and his good friend Harvey. No matter your relationship with the show, whether it’s a childhood favorite, an old movie that you love, a show you’ve seen (or even been in!) before, or, even if you’ve never heard of it before, we believe that Elwood, and Harvey, and the rest of the cast, will help you feel and see the good in the world. And you may just end up a little happier for it too.
Performances of Harvey continue this weekend, April 7, 8, 9, and 10. Tickets are available online at lofte.org/tickets or by calling the box office at 402-234-2553. Don’t miss this theatrical classic!