Dearborn Heights Civic Theater announces draft picks for “Biloxi Blues”

Photo by Sue Suchyta


Phillip Booth (second from left) of Dearborn as Sergeant Toomey drills Greg Gedert (left) of Dearborn who plays Eugene Morris Jerome while Barret Kaltz (right) of Dearborn who plays Hennesey stands at attention during the Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre’s Thursday rehearsal for Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues.”

By Sue Suchyta
Eugene Jerome is off to basic training in Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues,” the second play in the trilogy based loosely on the playwright’s own life.

The show will be performed by the Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre Nov. 4, 5, 11 and 12 at the Berwyn Center, 26155 Richardson in Dearborn Heights. For more information go to www.dhctstage.org.

Valerie Haas of Inkster will direct the production. Last season she played Kate Jerome, Eugene’s mother in DHCT’s production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” the first show in the trilogy.

Haas volunteered to direct “Biloxi Blues” with the hope that eventually someone else will direct “Broadway Bound,” the third show in the trilogy, which would allow her to reprise her role of Kate, Eugene’s mother.

The group also wanted to do “Biloxi Blues” while Greg Gedert of Dearborn, who played Eugene in the first show, was still young enough to reprise the role.

“We wanted Greg to play the role again, while he’s still young enough to accomplish that, to have a kind of a continuity,” Haas said. “We were lucky that he wasn’t going anywhere, and I was familiar enough with the play and so everything was available at the time.”

Set in 1943 during army basic training, Haas said the show mirrors what a lot of recruits went through when they were drafted to serve in World War II.

“Most of the guys who were in this particular group were not volunteers – they were drafted,” Haas said. “Which makes it a slightly different dynamic from the guys in late 1941, early 1942, who just volunteered in droves.”

Haas said the recruits later in the war were different from the initial wave of recruits.

“Some of them volunteered because they just got old enough. But some of them really weren’t all that het up to go off and be soldiers, like Eugene, and like Epstein,” Haas said. “So then there’s this different dynamic of people who want to be there and other people who are very leery about the whole situation.”

She added that even though this occurred 68 years ago, the play shows what it was like for people to go through basic training in an unfamiliar place, thrown together with strangers and to have someone yelling at them all the time.

“It’s very poignant in a way, too, because some very serious things happen,” Haas said. “And people have a lot of conflicted decisions … do I do this or do I do that? Is this going to be more right or is that going to be right?”

She said the race card comes into question because one character picks on Epstein and Eugene because they’re Jewish. One of the other recruits calls Wykowski out on his prejudices, which makes him mad because he’s been manipulated.

“That goes on throughout the whole play, different characters manipulating each other,” Haas said. “But throughout it Eugene is writing it down in his diary, which a lot of people did at the time.”

Gedert, who is reprising his role of Eugene Jerome, said his character is now five years older than he was in “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

“He grew up a lot during the last show, but there’s a lot more growing up he does here as well,” Gedert said. “It’s a different experience – first time being away from home.”

He added that it’s interesting to take the role of an adolescent dealing with puberty into manhood, where he actually has to deal with life’s choices.

Marc Walentowicz of Garden City, who plays Wykowski, chose to get involved because he loves the show and he directed the first part of the trilogy, “Brighton Beach Memoirs” for DHCT.

“When Val agreed to direct the second part I wanted to still be involved, so here I am,” Walentowicz said.

He said his character, Wykowski, is the self-elected leader of the group.

“If I pull it off correctly, I will be the model soldier,” Walentowicz said.

He said that while Wykowski is a bigot, he is not a bad guy; he thinks his behavior was very much in keeping with the times, and he didn’t know any better.

“There are lines in the show that indicate that he doesn’t care what you are as long as you do what you’re supposed to do,” Walentowicz said. “That’s what he has more of a problem with – having to do push-ups for the screw-ups. He doesn’t really care what they are, he just doesn’t have any filter on the language that he uses.”

He is really excited to be playing the part, and hopes everyone comes out and sees show. He said he would give the language a PG-13 rating.

Patrick Coon of Westland plays Selridge, whom he describes as a “smart ass bully” who makes jokes and makes fun of people.

“It’s a very funny show,” Coon said. “I loved the movie and I love the show itself – great lines, very funny – a very entertaining show.”

Christopher Fraser, a Detroit resident who grew up in Dearborn Heights, plays Epstein.

“I’m trying to portray Epstein how he is,” Fraser said. “He talks loud talk but he can’t really walk the walk; he has such strong beliefs in what he believes in that I admire and respect him for it and I want to portray the character.”

He noted that while Epstein gets hit with a lot of peer pressure to conform, he doesn’t buckle under it.

Phillip Booth of Dearborn plays Sergeant Toomey, who has to turn the raw recruits into soldiers. Although he was never in the military, his brother was, and his father was a sergeant in World War II, although he says his father was nothing like Toomey.

He encourages people to come see the show.

“It’s Neil Simon, of course, and so the comedy is hilarious,” Booth said. “The language is a little blue, so it probably wouldn’t be for the really young crowd, but for mid teens it’s probably nothing they haven’t heard before, and the message that the (show) has and the comedy is probably worth the exchange.”

Barret Kaltz of Dearborn plays James Hennesey. It’s also his first time on stage.

“I saw “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and thought it was funny,” Kaltz said. “And I’ve always wanted to get into theater. I’ve done backstage, technical stuff, and I thought this would be a good first one – a smaller part.”

June Delgreco of Dearborn Heights will play Daisy, while Meredith Ferry of Allen Park will play Rowena. The role of Carney had not yet been cast at press time.

Debbie Fraser of Detroit, formerly of Dearborn Heights, is the assistant to the director, and may be the stage manager as well.

For more information about the show, go to www.dhctstage.org.

GEM PRESENTS NEW MUSICAL ‘DADDY LONG LEGS’
The Gem Theatre opened its season Sept. 14 with the new musical, “Daddy Long Legs.”

It features words by Tony Award-winning director John Caird, with music by Tony-nominated composer Paul Gordon.

The two person show is a wonderful musical love story with a strong female protagonist.

During press night Sept. 16 the show was enthusiastically received with a spontaneous standing ovation.

“Daddy long Legs,” which runs through Nov. 12, is based on Jean Webster’s 1912 novel of the same name.

An orphan, Jerusha Abbott, is given the extraordinary chance for a woman of her era to attend college. Her mysterious benefactor wishes only to receive a letter from her every two weeks detailing her progress and showing her growing skill as a writer. He, in turns, says wants no contact with her at all.

However, things do not always go as planned. And while Jerusha imagines her benefactor to be a kindly old man, he is in fact a young man of means who falls in love with her through her letters.

Jervis, her benefactor, soon begins a subterfuge, and meets Jerusha by visiting his niece, a wealthy social climber whose college life overlaps with Jerusha.

Christy Altomare is wonderful in the role of Jerusha. She is warm and feisty and animated. She also has a rich, beautiful singing voice.

Her character’s spirit is a cross between Jo March of “Little Women” and Anne Shirley of “Anne of Green Gables.”

Kevin Earley, as Jervis, her benefactor, brings a strong, engaging singing voice to the part, and allows the character’s icy, repressed reserve to melt enough to let us see the lonely man inside.

David Farley, a Tony Award-nominated costumer and scenic designer, has given Jerusha wonderful period fashions that become more sophisticated as she becomes more self-assured.

His versatile set design also uses scrims behind the windows that allow projected landscape images.

The songs, all solos or duets, are sweet, soulful and moving, and are sure to become popular downloads on iTunes.

For more information, call the box office at (313) 963-9800 or go to www.gemtheatre.com.

HILBERRY OPENS SEASON WITH ‘A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD, A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE’
The Hilberry, Wayne State University’s graduate theater company, opened its season Friday with a musical double feature, “A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine.”

The show runs through Oct. 15 and features book and lyrics by Dick Vosburgh, with music by Frank Lazarus. It also includes additional music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and Johnny Mercer.

For show dates, times and additional information call the box office at (313) 577-2972 or go to www.hilberry.com.

Set in Hollywood in the 1930s, Act I, “A Day in Hollywood,” is a tribute to the memorable song and dance entertainment of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, while Act II, “A Night in the Ukraine,” is loosely based on Anton Chekhov’s “The Bear” with zany characters closely resembling the Marx Brothers.

The show is fun to watch, entertaining, and laughter-filled. Four of the new first year graduate student actors were introduced in this production: Alec Barbour, Danielle Cochrane, Topher Payne and David Sterritt.

Payne is a triple threat: he can act, sing and dance – even tap. Barbour had a chance to showcase his acting in Act II, as did Cochrane, whose vocals seemed a bit weak, perhaps due to the company cold rumored to be running rampant through the ranks. Sterritt is another new performer worth watching.

Jeremy Mossman, the musical director, steps out from behind the piano to treat us to his tapping, singing and acting.

Carollette Phillips is clever and funny as Gino, who is modeled after Harpo Marx, the mute but funny Marx brother.

Lorelei Sturm and Sara Hymes are talented triple threats, singing, dancing and performing multiple roles.

Andrew Papa, as the Serge-Groucho Marx character in Act II, is simply hysterical when paired with Dave Toomey, who plays the Carlo-Chico Marx character.

The show is fun and entertaining, and it’s delightful to see so much new talent on the Hilberry stage.

For more information, call the box office at (313) 577-2972 or go to www.hilberry.com.

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