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December 11, 2013

Grosse Pointe Theatre is dreaming of a ‘White Christmas’

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Grosse Pointe Theatre is dreaming of a ‘White Christmas’
Eleonore Ellero-Groth and Stephanie Butler play a pair of singing sisters in the 1950s in “White Christmas,” which is being staged this month by Grosse Pointe Theatre.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Grosse Pointe Theatre is hoping its latest show becomes a new annual holiday tradition for local families.

For the first time, the community theater company is staging a holiday production. “White Christmas” — based on the 1954 movie and the songs of Irving Berlin — opens Dec. 14 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, and director Don Bischoff, of Macomb Township, said GPT has made a five-year commitment to produce this show each year during the holidays. With lavish costumes designed to be tailored to fit different actors and sets that can be broken down and stored, “it’s a little bigger and a little grander” than GPT’s average production, Bischoff said.

“This is a big costume and a big dance show,” he said.

Besides the title tune, “White Christmas” includes many other iconic hits by Berlin, such as “Sisters,” “Happy Holidays,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Count Your Blessings.” The GPT production has gotten support from the John A. and Marlene L. Boll Foundation.

The story itself is fairly light, said those involved with the show. World War II veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis become a popular song-and-dance duo after serving their country, and the love-struck men follow the singing Haynes sisters as the sisters make their way to a Christmas gig at a Vermont ski lodge owned by Bob and Phil’s beloved former Army commander. When the men learn the lodge is in serious financial trouble, they decide to mount a special production to raise money to save it and help out their commander. But along the way, there are a number of misunderstandings that lead to unintended consequences and a lot of laughs.

“It’s just one of those feel-good shows,” said Bischoff, who also plays ladies’ man Phil. Because he’s one of the leads, Bischoff has a co-director, Arlene Marie Schoenherr, of St. Clair Shores.

“It’s a team effort,” said Bischoff, who said he’s “really wanted to play this part for a long time” but got tapped to direct, as well, when the original director was injured and couldn’t do it.

Brian Groth, of St. Clair Shores, plays Bob, and he romances his real-life wife, Eleonore Ellero-Groth — who plays Betty, one of the Haynes sisters — in this show. Their 10-year-old daughter, Lillian Groth, plays the commander’s granddaughter.

“The idea with the movie, as well (as the stage production), was to take a bunch of classic Irving Berlin songs and build a show around them,” Brian Groth said. The couple’s older daughter is away at college and wasn’t able to try out for this production, he said.

Although working on the show has added one more item to the to-do list at a time of year when there’s already too much to do, Groth said it’s been an enjoyable experience.

“Obviously, being in a show with my wife and daughter has been a lot of fun,” he said. “(And) I’m not driving everyone (around the house) crazy listening to the soundtrack of a show they’re not in.”

With a plot that’s easy to follow, “This is truly a show for all ages,” Groth said. “We really hope people will make this part of their holiday tradition. They can come and enjoy a couple of hours of great music and great fun.”

Bischoff said Berlin’s songs were written for the dance floor and are “all about Americana.” That’s probably why people still hum them today, he said.

“White Christmas” also features Eddie Tujaka, of Grosse Pointe Farms, as the commander and Bev Dickinson, of Pleasant Ridge, as his loyal secretary. Others in the cast include Robert Mullinger, Charly Davis, Elizabeth Rooney, Andrew Fleming and Tristan Davis, of Grosse Pointe City; Jessica Boehmer, Josie Monahan and MaryLynn Bertetto, of Grosse Pointe Farms; Tom Woodman, Rachel Brieden, Katy Schoetzow, Daniel Morency, RaeAnne Woodman and Julianna Brenner, of Grosse Pointe Park; Stephanie Butler, Kristina Kamm, Nick Doyle and Sophie Leszczynski, of Grosse Pointe Woods; Heather and Dan Yeaw, of Dearborn; Phil Potter, of Harper Woods; Tom Pagano and Melissa Kenyon, of Clinton Township; Peter Di Sante, of St. Clair Shores; Angela Tomaszycki, of Ferndale; Becky Bodley and Jack Johns, of Mount Clemens; Matt Paquette, of Warren; Jeanette Thomas, of New Baltimore; and Nancy DeRita and Jacquelyne Pfaff, of Chesterfield Township.

To prepare for the production, Bischoff said GPT started conducting tap dancing workshops this January.

“There are four big production numbers in the show, (each) one bigger than the other,” he said.

In keeping with the holiday spirit — and the venue of the War Memorial — GPT is asking audience members to consider donating items to be shipped to troops overseas.

In collaboration with the War Memorial Veterans Committee’s Soldiers’ Support Fund, people can drop off items such as these between Dec. 14-22: messages of cheer, wrapped hard candy, powdered drink mixes, lip balm, playing cards, magazines, paperback books, beef jerky, chewing gum, baby wipes, razors, black cotton athletic socks, foot powder, deodorant, new or gently used movie DVDs, ant traps, fly tape, new video games, sports equipment and gaming systems such as Xbox or Wii. New laptop computers to enable those in the military to keep in contact with their families are also needed. Financial donations can be made, and they’re tax-deductible.

“Knowing the community we live in, I’m sure we will have a wonderful (response),” said “White Christmas” co-producer Lorie Kamm, of Grosse Pointe Woods.

Although the show will be recast each year, GPT hopes audiences will come back year after year to see it, much like they do for Meadow Brook Theatre’s long-running annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

“We want it to be a family tradition,” Kamm said.

She said “White Christmas” has all of the makings of such a tradition.

“It’s heartwarming,” Kamm said. “It’s a love story.”

The War Memorial is located at 32 Lake Shore. Tickets to “White Christmas” are $24. Productions are at 2 p.m. Dec. 14, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17-19, 2 p.m. Dec. 21, and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22. At press time, some shows were already sold out, and GPT was trying to add a production, possibly on Dec. 23. For tickets or more information, visit www.gpt.org or call (313) 881-4004.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.