By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Applause started before the curtain went up for Oxford Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Hello, Dolly!”
Joe Turner Cantú, festival director, introduced Kathie Lee Gifford, who was sitting in the audience at the University of Mississippi’s Ford Center.
“Let’s give her a warm Oxford welcome,” Cantú said.
Gifford flew into town Thursday to see “Hello, Dolly!” featuring the mother-daughter tandem of Mary Donnelly Haskell as Dolly and Mary Lane Haskell as Irene.
About 20 minutes before curtain time, Gifford met with the two actresses and led them in a quiet backstage prayer.
Not that she was worried about how they would perform.
“I know them,” she said. “I know what they’re capable of, for crying out loud.”
Some 35 years ago, Gifford became Amory native Sam Haskell’s first client at William Morris Agency.
“When I found him, this guy from the mailroom, I found a friend and a partner in every sense of the word,” Gifford said. “We were both from small towns. We shared the same old-fashioned things nobody seemed to care about any more. I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve met my male doppelgänger.’”
Gifford became a household name on “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee,” and now hosts the fourth hour on NBC’s “Today” with Hoda Kotb. Her schedule usually keeps her busy, but she couldn’t resist the Haskells’ invitation to see the show.
“I’ve been trying to get here to visit them since they built their new house in Oxford,” said Gifford, who has performed at Sam Haskell’s Stars Over Mississippi event in Amory.
Her husband, sportscaster Frank Gifford, decided to stay home.
“Frank doesn’t like to get out of his easy chair anymore,” she said.
Sam Haskell said he was already excited that his two favorite women were starring in “Hello, Dolly!,” and Gifford counted as his third favorite.
“I’m loving this,” he said.
He took Gifford to Bouré for dinner before the show, and she was anticipating a trip to BBB for the “Lard Have Mercy” breakfast on Friday morning.
During the show, she was focused on her friends on stage, and was among the first to get out of her seat for the standing ovation.
She also got to see her friends in silhouette as they hugged each other moments before the final curtain fell.
WHAT: Oxford Shakespeare Festival
WHERE: University of Mississippi Ford Center and Meek Hall Auditorium
WHEN: Through July 7
TICKETS: Adult tickets are $18 for “Hello, Dolly!” and $14 for “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” For seniors and students, tickets are $14 for “Hello, Dolly!” and $12 for “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”
INFORMATION: (662) 915-7411, shakespeare.olemiss.edu