Production of ‘Annie’ pays tribute to Grosse Pointe Theatre’s family

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 11, 2019

 Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of the musical “Annie” stars, clockwise, Michael Trudel as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, Maggie Bickerstaff as Grace Farrell, Sarah Galle as Annie, and Winston in the role of Sandy the dog.

Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of the musical “Annie” stars, clockwise, Michael Trudel as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, Maggie Bickerstaff as Grace Farrell, Sarah Galle as Annie, and Winston in the role of Sandy the dog.

Photo by Dale Pegg, provided by Grosse Pointe Theatre

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — When Michael Trudel takes the stage as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Annie,” he’ll be giving a nod to his family.

Trudel, of Grosse Pointe Park, was a member of the chorus along with his daughter, Elizabeth, and his late mother, Barbara Bentley, when GPT produced “Annie” in 2003 — the first time three generations of one family shared a GPT stage.

Now playing one of the leads, Trudel will be donning a black bowler hat that his mother gave him, and a tie that his son, David, gave him for Father’s Day; his son’s middle name is Bentley. “Annie,” which closes GPT’s 71st season, will open June 16, on what would have been Barbara Bentley’s 85th birthday; she died in 2011.

Trudel’s costume elements are just one of the ways GPT is paying homage to past performers and supporters in this family-oriented production, which will run June 16-29 at the Christian A. Fenton Performing Arts Center at Grosse Pointe North High School in Grosse Pointe Woods.

“Annie” is a musical about the title orphan’s search for her parents in Great Depression-era New York City. For the GPT production, the number of orphans in the cast — 15, with Annie — is roughly double the standard, and orphans who would otherwise be unnamed all bear the first name of a late GPT performer or supporter. The orphans are named after Bentley, Mary Adzigian, Lois Bendler, Jodi Brown, Susan Davis, Trudy Hubbard, Carol Purdon and Phyllis Reeves.

“We’re paying tribute to people that we love,” said Patricia Ellis, of Grosse Pointe City, the show’s publicity chair. “They’re the people who helped make Grosse Pointe Theatre so special. They made us who we are. We are a family.”

Tim Higgins, of Royal Oak, who played the conniving Rooster Hannigan in the 2003 version of “Annie,” is directing this time around.

“The good characters get rewarded,” Higgins said. “The bad characters go to jail. It’s an unapologetically sweet story. That’s why you can see it time and time again. That’s why it’s been around for 47 years. It’s an iconic American (show).”

Sarah Galle, 12, of Bloomfield Hills, plays Annie. The seventh grader was one of more than 70 young actresses who auditioned for the role, Ellis said. Galle said she has long wanted to play Annie, and at 12, she was worried she might be close to aging out of the role; the character is 11. Galle played Molly, Annie’s closest friend, in a previous production.

“Annie is so optimistic,” Galle said.

Judy Gilbert, of Grosse Pointe City, whose late dog played Annie’s pooch, Sandy, in 2003, offered her 3-year-old English cream doodle, Winston, as Sandy. To prepare for the part, the friendly dog even spent a weekend at the Galle home.

Maggie Bickerstaff, of Grosse Pointe Shores, who plays Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ good-hearted assistant, is Winston’s “aunt,” having adopted his sister.

“Grace is a very take-charge kind of woman,” Bickerstaff said. “I respect that. I think, especially for the 1930s, she’s very refreshing. She’s ahead of her time.”

Playing Miss Hannigan, the unhappy, hard-drinking operator of the orphanage, is Christine Maurer, of Troy. Maurer said she played Hannigan’s polar opposite, Grace, in a production of “Annie” eight years ago.

“I was drawn to Hannigan to fill out my résumé,” she said. “I’ve never played a bad guy, a villain.”

The cast also includes Frank “Scott” Davis, of Royal Oak; Soula Burns, Ellie Dempz, Sarafina Melhem and Kieran Purcell, of Grosse Pointe Woods; Mary Lynn Bertetto, Robert Bertetto, Lily Frey, Annie McCarron, Remie Rivel, Addison Swegles, Amelia Unkel, Megan Von Schwarz, Sean Von Schwarz, Mark Weber and Rob Weber, of Grosse Pointe Farms; Valerie Bandy, Lucy Caulfield, Tom Caulfield, Miah Evans, Harvest Savage and Nicole Vogler, of Grosse Pointe Park; Carl Ghafari, of Grosse Pointe Shores; Madison Kaimala, of Clinton Township; Jenna Kozierowski and Ellen Taber, of St. Clair Shores; Emmajean Evans, of Grosse Pointe City; Joseph Munem, of Sterling Heights; Malissa Bossardet, of Bloomfield Hills; Mary Magyari, of Clawson; Jackie Pfaff, of Chesterfield Township; Keith Clark, of Harper Woods; and Beatrix Reilly, Daniel Woitulewicz, Stella Woitulewicz and Claire Zimmeth, of Detroit.

“It’s a warm-hearted, fun show,” Bickerstaff said. “If you like dogs and Christmas, come see this show.”

Higgins said they’re taking full advantage of the large performing arts auditorium to stage a big and visually impressive production that will match the chops of his solid cast.

“In 42 years of doing theater, this will be the finest stage I’ve ever performed on,” Trudel said.

The Christian A. Fenton Performing Arts Center is located on the Grosse Pointe North High School campus at 707 Vernier Road in Grosse Pointe Woods. Tickets cost $25. Free valet parking is available. For tickets or more information, visit www.gpt.org or call (313) 881-4004.