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Pioneer Theatre’s artistic director finds healing through ‘Hello Dolly’ production

May 13, 2022, 7:58 PM

Pioneer Theatre Company’s artistic director fought to help her theater survive during the pandemic. Then, she experienced a tragic loss.

KSL’s Carole Mikita has the story of how a beloved musical, “Hello Dolly,” is helping the healing process.

“Try to remember and incorporate all the stuff we worked on.”

Just two days before opening night and Karen Azenberg was giving last minute instructions to cast and crew. She is Pioneer Theatre Company’s artistic director, fearless leader, woman in charge.

“All the way through, no stopping, fingers crossed!”

The main character descends the restaurant staircase and the waiters sing, “Hello Dolly, well, hello Dolly!”

This beloved production has it all — show stopping numbers, colorful costumes and sets — but it’s much more because of the touching story: Dolly Levi is a widow.

“In a big transition in her life,” Karen Azenberg said. “[She] has a sort of awakening about — I’ve got to move forward and I’ve got to take advantage of living every day.”

And all of the sudden, so did Karen Azenberg.

“My husband passed away very suddenly at the beginning of January.”

Karen and Augie Mericola were married for 30 years.

“My husband was a theatre guy. He believed the show must go on,” she said. “Theatre’s a family. “I knew that before, but this whole experience has given me a huge family of people who have been supportive.”

Karen Azenberg literally has decades of theatre credits on her resume, and she assumed she had experienced everything in life, but there is that old adage.

“Life imitates art or the other way around,” she said. “Everybody has to take their journey together. I think I took a little tip from the show I was working on.”

In Act II, Cornelius falls in love and sings, “It only takes a moment for your eyes to meet and then your heart knows, in a moment, you will never be alone again.”

One of the reasons Karen loves this show is that it defines hers and Augie’s love story in the song, “It only takes a moment.” It still grabs her heart.

“I was sitting on stage during a run-through last night and it was, ‘Oh, still not quite ready.’”

But Dolly presses on as she sings, “Glad to see you Hank, let’s thank my lucky stars.

“Your lucky stars,” repeats those waiters.

And like Dolly, Karen believes in “rejoining the human race!”

“I’m back at work and I’m embracing the things that I love because this does help feed me.”

Over several difficult months, Karen is grateful for family, friends, colleagues and so many Utahns who have been the light at the end of the tunnel.

No less impressive was the way Karen Azenberg handled the pandemic – keeping employees working and only closing Pioneer Theatre Company for a year – by following COVID-19 protocols – the shows went forward after that.

Paige Davis, a New York Equity actor who plays Dolly Levi, tips her hat to Karen.

“Just a huge shoutout to Karen Azenberg for keeping this theatre afloat. Many regional theaters collapsed during this time, understandably so. She pivoted, she took charge, she kept it going.”

Here is a link to Pioneer Theatre Company for “Hello Dolly” dates and ticket information.

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Pioneer Theatre’s artistic director finds healing through ‘Hello Dolly’ production