At a rehearsal in 2015, Heart of the Hills Players members Paul Messano and Joanie Rizzio, both of Troy, rehearse at the Disabled American Veterans hall in Shelby Township for the show “Oklahoma.” The acting troupe consists of people 50 and older, and is always looking for new members to join.

At a rehearsal in 2015, Heart of the Hills Players members Paul Messano and Joanie Rizzio, both of Troy, rehearse at the Disabled American Veterans hall in Shelby Township for the show “Oklahoma.” The acting troupe consists of people 50 and older, and is always looking for new members to join.

File photo by Deb Jacques


It’s center stage for senior theater troupe

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published May 8, 2018

 Pam Messano, of Troy, was the director of the performance. The acting troupe proves the show must go on at any age.

Pam Messano, of Troy, was the director of the performance. The acting troupe proves the show must go on at any age.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Heart of the Hills Players members  Sherry Reseigh, of Oxford, and Ali Hakim, of Rochester Hills, rehearse.

Heart of the Hills Players members Sherry Reseigh, of Oxford, and Ali Hakim, of Rochester Hills, rehearse.

File photo by Deb Jacques

METRO DETROIT — Wanted: talented theater performers, costume seamstresses, makeup artists and stage prop designers to join the Heart of the Hills Players acting troupe.

The group — full of fun, friendship and fellowship — is always looking for new members to join. The only requirement is that participants must be at least 50 years old.

The Heart of the Hills Players has been entertaining crowds for several years by performing plays — including “Irene” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” — at local venues, including the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township and the Troy and Warren community centers. 

About 100 members ages 50 and older make up the group. The most senior member is 94 years old, and the youngest is in her late 50s. 

Organization Treasurer Chancey Miller said members come from the tri-county area, “west of Pontiac, east of Mount Clemens, Detroit up to Romeo.” 

While many members love the spotlight and have experience in acting, singing and dancing, “they don’t have to be a performer,” Miller, 77, said. He added that the group needs people to do behind-the-scenes work as well.

“Like any organization, we need more men,” said Miller, a Shelby Township resident who first began performing at age 4. “They’re either working or fishing or playing golf. We run out of men easily.”

Miller has been a member of the theater group for many years. Most members are retired. 

“I enjoy the camaraderie,” he said. “We have such varied backgrounds. We’ve got automotive people, educators, lawyers. We have church and community choir people.”

At a recent rehearsal at the Disabled American Veterans hall in Shelby Township, Sterling Heights resident Bill Baird was busy directing the actors for their April run of “This ‘n That” at the Warren Community Center.

“Where is our ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart,’ people?” Baird called out as practice got underway.

Along with a trio of theater shows each year, several group members perform mini-shows at nursing homes and assisted living centers in Warren, St. Clair Shores, Grosse Pointe, Troy and many other local cities. They volunteer their time and bring plenty of variety to the residents, singing everything from “You Are My Sunshine” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to songs by Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley and more. 

“They literally welcome us with open arms. We have a Hawaiian dancer, belly dancers, singers and tap dancers,” Warren resident Melanie Lee, 85, said. “There is a pianist that travels with us. She’s at every show. We usually do six to eight shows a month. We have fun doing it. I’m amazed at the talent we have.”

Sometimes the performers share sheet music so the residents can sing along. At first, there are moments when the residents don’t seem to be paying attention, but once the music and singing begin, that all changes.

“I can see a finger tapping,” Lee said. “I can see them singing. It is a wonderful connection between the singers and the audience. Music is an underlying connection.” 

“It’s really rewarding. Some of the places we go to, the people are bedridden. You’re helping to make their day a little better,” 82-year-old Heart of the Hills member Bill Fry said.

The Bloomfield Hills resident has been a member of the acting troupe since 2006 and joined at the suggestion of a friend. He has performed on the theater stage in several of the group’s productions, which he said teaches him discipline.

“You have to get into your role. You start becoming that person,” he said. “I think you’ve got to keep learning. It keeps you young.”

Joe Tocco, 92, is a regular at the mini-shows.

“It’s to get residents involved,” the Shelby Township resident said. “They love us. They want us to come back.” 

At the mini-shows, Tocco often entertains with Frank Sinatra tunes and ballads. 

“Another couple does Broadway stuff, and another couple does country and religious songs,” Tocco said. “I love to perform. It’s our opportunity to sing, which we love to do. All my life I’ve been learning songs.”

For more information on the Heart of the Hills Players, visit www.hohplayers.org.