Rachel Haider had a special kind of challenge as director of Shattuck-St. Mary's performance of "Hello, Dolly!"

"I knew going into it that we had a Dolly whose first language was not English," she said, "but she's done phenomenally. Just talking to her, you wouldn't know it - her English is just beautiful."

But Wendy Shon, a freshman from Jecheon, South Korea, had doubts of her own.

"I didn't expect it," she said of her lead role. "I thought I would get (a smaller role), because there are girls who are better than me. They're better singers and better actors."

She speaks English fluently, with barely a trace of an accent - but not 19th century English.

"I didn't know what things meant, so I'd go ask how I should say it," Wendy said before Wednesday night's dress rehearsal.

The language, she said with a smile, "is not 2000, it's not even the 1900s. This is set in the 1800s, so I didn't always understand what the line was."

Finding the correct grammar and memorizing both lines and lyrics were her biggest challenges, she said.

Nelson Wolf, who plays male lead Horace Vandergelder, echoed the sentiment.

"I hadn't done a play since eighth-grade," he said. "But it's my senior year, and I thought I'd give it a shot."

He's not a singer, he admits, but that, too, has changed.

"This has all been a learning experience," Wolf said. The acting has been fun, he added, "and just getting to know all the people, getting out of my comfort zone."

He surprised more than a few people with his decision to act.

"He's been very shy in the past," Haider said, "so this has been delightful for the people who've known him. He just showed up, and we all smiled."

Because the school has a recognized vocal program, "we've had a great basis to work from," she said.

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The pit band, as well, contains accomplished musicians.

Haider, now in her second year with SSM, said she chose the musical in order to expose the students to some of the classics.

"It has such wonderful roles across the gender lines," she said. "There was something for everyone."

There are about 10 actors for whom English is a second language, Haider said.

"They're doing great," she said. "This is the kind of musical where the emotions are so strong they just have to break out in song. It's humorous and romantic. It's been fun for them."

- Staff writer Kay Fate may be reached at 333-3128.

IF YOU GO

What: "Hello, Dolly!"

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Where: Newhall Auditorium at Shattuck-St. Mary's, 1000 Shumway Ave.

Tickets: $8 for adults; $6 for students and children

For more information, call 333-1620.

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