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Athens grad appears in Broadway tour of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 29, 2020

 Caitlin Lester-Sams

Caitlin Lester-Sams


TROY — Caitlin Lester-Sams once graced the stage at Athens High School, appearing in “West Side Story,” “Oklahoma!” and “Man of LaMancha.”

She also played guitar and sang in the Troy church where her father, Jonathan Sams, was a pastor, St. Stephen Episcopal Church, on Adams Road.

“High school was when I decided that’s what I wanted to do as a job,” she said.

The 2003 Athens graduate will appear as Mrs. Bucket, Charlie Bucket’s mother, in the Broadway touring musical production of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Detroit Opera House, opening Feb. 18.

According to a press release, the play tells the story of Willy Wonka, the world-famous inventor of the Everlasting Gobstopper, who makes an  announcement.

His marvelous — and mysterious — factory is opening its gates to a lucky few. That includes young Charlie Bucket, whose life needs sweetening. He and four other winners embark on a life-changing journey through Wonka’s world of pure imagination.

Lester-Sams said she started singing when she was 6 or 7.

“Music was a big part of my household,” she said, noting that her dad played guitar and taught her and her brother David to play. “My whole family sang in church,” she said.

Lester-Sams attended Western Michigan University and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater performance.

Upon graduation she moved to New York City with her husband, Michael Lester, originally from Scotland. They met when they were both camp counselors at a camp in Ortonville. He works in New York City as a videographer while she travels in touring productions.

“That’s one of the tough things,” she said. “When you get a gig, you have to leave most of the time.”

Lester-Sams has also appeared as Emily in the national tours of “Elf the Musical,” Ms. Wilde in “Flashdance the Musical,” Brooke in “Legally Blonde,” Rosie in “Cabaret,”  Linoleum in “Great American Trailer Park Musical,” Pam in “The Full Monty,” Meg in “Brigadoon” and Soupy Sue in “Urinetown.”

She said she loves performing before a live audience.

“It’s always such a thrill. Every performance has potential to be a little bit different,” she said. “A laugh from the audience is like getting a hug. It’s great to get immediate feedback.”

She hasn’t performed on a Detroit stage since “Flashdance” five years ago.

She said it’s great to perform “something you’re proud of” for family and friends, people who have been seeing her perform since she was a little kid.

Lester-Sams said her mother, Cheri Salanty, is great about rallying family and friends to spread the word that Lester-Sams is performing in town.

“No performer ever makes it to a professional level without people cheering them on,” Lester-Sams said.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” will offer a lot of “really cool onstage magic,” Lester-Sams said, noting that audiences are familiar with both film versions of the story.

“It’s fun to see it brought to life in front of you and work with a cast doing fantastic work. Roald Dahl was so imaginative,” she said. “The story takes place in a world where almost anything can happen. That makes it a fun place to go to work every day.”


Rehearsal schedule
Lester-Sams said the cast and crew do eight shows a week: two on Saturdays and Sundays, and one a night Tuesdays-Fridays. They have Mondays off and usually spend that traveling. She typically arrives at the theater for evening performances about an hour before curtain, as her character doesn’t have to spend too long in makeup, and she finishes up at about 11:30 p.m.

She explained that most shows rehearse from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for about three weeks in New York City, then have technical rehearsals — including sets, costumes and sound — for a week or two.

Her advice to anyone thinking of pursuing a performing career is to “get training, which is something different for everyone, to develop a fully formed character to put out eight shows a week. Learn from people who have done it before.

“You need to be irrationally in love with the art of making theater. You have to love it for the sake of just doing it. Focus on showing up for every audition and doing your best — hopefully, that leads to jobs,” she said.

“She just continues to grow in her craft,” said Salanty, who continues to sing in the choir at St. Stephen and travels throughout the country to see the plays her daughter appears in.

“To me, it was frightening to go into a career with so much rejection and disappointment,” Salanty said. “She doesn’t share when she’s heartbroken.”

Salanty said that “music is one of the best gifts you can give to your kids.”

She noted that her daughter took theater classes with Beate Ludecke through the Troy Parks and Recreation Department starting in second grade. “It was a really wonderful program.

“The summer she did ‘Legally Blonde,’ she had to jump rope for an entire solo,” Salanty said. “She didn’t know how, but said, ‘I’ll learn.’ For three months, she jumped rope every day. Her number was very impressive. I never get tired of seeing her perform.”

Salanty praised son-in-law Lester for being so supportive of her daughter’s career.

“His parents do musical theater in Scotland,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better son-in-law.”

Salanty said she plans to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in Grand Rapids with friends after it finishes in Detroit, where she plans to see it three times — she has 40 people scheduled to see the final performance in Detroit March 1.

“Come out and see our show,” Lester-Sams said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” will be at the Detroit Opera House Feb. 18-March 1. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased at or and by phone at (800) 982-2787. Tickets may also be purchased at the Detroit Opera House and Fisher Theatre box offices.