by Kevin M. Thomas @ReelKev
A “replacement actor” is a term used a lot in theatre. Obviously, the little girl from “Annie” can only play that part for so long so when she moves on, another girl assumes the role. It happens in television too mostly due to scheduling conflicts or health reasons, most notably with the two Darren’s of “Bewitched.”
It’s always tough to fill the shoes of someone leaving a role as audiences often feel loyal to the originator. Yet, there are many times the new actor wins us over. The second Darren was actually more handsome (and gay in real life!) and for super Broadway nerds, who would be disappointed to see Tony Winner Jennifer Holliday taking over the Jennifer Hudson’s role in “The Color Purple.” Both make the show worthwhile.
There’s another reason for a cast change and this one is tougher – when an actor dies. So is the case with San Francisco’s “Golden Girls Christmas,” which plays at San Francisco’s Victoria Theatre through Dec. 23.
One of the co-creators of the beloved drag version of the classic TV show, Cookie Dough, died in early 2015, leaving an allegiance of fans in mourning, with her dear friend Heklina one of the hardest hit by the news.
After months of dealing with the loss of her friend, Heklina decided the show must go on. “It was incredibly difficult to imagine doing it without her,” says Heklina. “Not to sound corny, but Cookie would have hated to see us end it.”
So move on they did. After co-star Matthew Martin and Heklina interviewed a few candidates, they selected Holotta Tymes. “I’ve worked with her for years,” Heklina says, mentioning they go back to when Holotta performed at Finnochio’s. But for this role, Heklina says, “she won out because of her delivery.” She jokes, “Also, she’s much shorter than my Dorothy Zbornak so that adds a definite physical comedy aspect.”
Taking on the role brought a lot of mixed emotions for Holotta. “I was excited to take on such a great role, but sad that Cookie had worked so hard to build up the show over the years and that I would not get to experience it with her,” Holotta says. “Cookie and I joked over the years about Sophia,” she adds. “I had told her to watch for marbles on stairs because I wanted the role….Cookie gave me a bag of gum balls the last time we worked together while in Seattle.” Holotta and Cookie were obviously very good friends. “But Cookie was a friend to all. She went out of her way to encourage and support performers,” Holotta says.
After rehearsing and preparing, opening night of her first performance came last December. “It was surreal,” Holotta remembers. “I was a child actor and I am pretty comfortable on stage, but I had butterflies. I just really wanted to to do my best and hoped Cookie would be proud and that the audience would look past the sadness for the loss of Cookie and enjoy the show in her honor.”
The reception that Holotta received was overwhelming and emotional. “I heard nothing but good things and many who were huge Cookie fans let me know how proud of me they were.”
Going into her second year, Holotta is feeling more comfortable in the role. “I’m a huge ham on stage and I think I was born to play Sophia,” Holotta says, “She is kind of my spirit animal.”
Holotta loves the role and says this year she has lots to do in the show. She says she’s committed to doing the part as long as they keep offering it to her.”I’m having a blast.”
As far as the longevity of the show goes, Heklina says they will keep doing it until they are as old as the characters they are playing.
The show usually sells out so get tickets soon. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/288406211544578/
Also, check out our previous interview with the cast and our beloved Cookie Dough: http://progressivepulse.com/news/sf-drag-golden-girls-share-the-spirit-of-christmas-by-kevin-m-thomas/
We also chatted with Holotta and the team last year after the show: