Youngster Takes the Lead in Mother-Daughter Acting Combo

Canton resident Anne Cloutier got a surprise when she and her daughter Elise decided to revive a long-dormant family tradition by auditioning together for a stage play. They were both cast in the musical Barnum, opening at the Village Theatre in Canton on April 19. During rehearsals, something became clear to Anne: the student has surpassed the master.

This isn’t the first time the two have been an acting combo. Anne and 13-year-old Elise were in several community theatre productions five or six years ago.

“In other shows we did together she was so young that most of the time I had to be ‘Mom’ and watch out for her, and tell her where to be and what to do,” remembers Anne.

The two continued to do stage shows, but separately, because they weren’t able to find one that was right for both of them. Anne acted in It’s a Wonderful Life, FONTS, Music Man and My Fair Lady, among others.

Then along came Barnum, a unique hybrid of musical theatre and circus that contains the expected (song and dance numbers) as well as the unexpected (stilt walkers, unicyclists, jugglers and tumblers). While the show, which is presented by Spotlight Players, won’t be performed under a Big Top, audience members may well forget that they’re not at a circus.

Barnum tells the heartwarming story of P.T. Barnum and his assembly of circus acts. Spanning 45 years, it reveals how the dynamic relationship Barnum had with his wife Charity influenced the colorful cast of characters who would help make him a household name – people like General Tom Thumb, singer Jenny Lind and the man who ultimately became his show biz partner, James Bailey.

The two Cloutiers couldn’t resist auditioning for Barnum, which has the kind of songs “you just can’t get out of your head,” says Anne, who adds: “That’s a good thing!” They are both in the ensemble, and Elise is a dancer and trapeze artist as well (more on that in a minute).

Between the shows she did previously with her mother and Barnum, Elise compiled a fairly impressive theatrical resume that includes roles in Camp Rock, Aladdin, Footloose, Annie and Little Mermaid.

With all that experience behind her, along with training in ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop and lyrical dance, Anne says Elise is now the expert, and has been teaching her Mom – helping Anne learn dance steps and songs — instead of the other way around.

“It is so wonderful to be able to see the fine young lady she has become,” Anne says proudly.

She’s not the only person impressed by her daughter’s stage presence.

“People were amazed that she is only 13 – especially her adult male dance partner, whose jaw dropped when he realized he was partnered with — and asking for help from — a 7th grade kid!”

Elise was bitten by the acting bug early. She was in a production of Bye, Bye Birdie when she was only five years old – sort of. Anne was the one who was actually in the show, but Elise was videotaped for a segment that was shown on a screen at the beginning of the second act. Seeing her mother onstage in the first act got no reaction from young Elise, but seeing herself on the screen caused her to jump up in her seat and scream, “That’s me! That’s me!” She was a hit with both her fellow audience members and the actors.

“I was onstage waiting for the lights to come up and we were all just cracking up!” said Anne.

Now that Elise is a teenager, she’s not only onstage in her own right, but she’s adding trapeze artistry to her list of accomplishments. Anne said her daughter is a little nervous about this role, especially since the director teased her at one rehearsal by asking her if she could hang on by just one toe.

“She is SO excited about this!” said Anne. “She is taking private lessons at the Detroit Flyhouse to help her do it. She won’t be doing too many daring things, but I thought the lessons would help her to feel more comfortable when she is on the trapeze onstage.”

Anne is a little nervous herself, because there will be no safety net beneath the young trapeze artist.

Barnum is being directed by Wendy Sielaff of Canton, assisted by Music Director Richard Alder of Wesland and choreographer Jen Beitzel of Northville.

The cast includes Leo Babcock of Saline as P.T. Barnum; Cathy McDonald of Plymouth as Charity; Rebecca Winder of Livonia as Jenny Lind; Tina Paraventi of Ypsilanti as Joice Heth; Jim Jackson of Westland as General Tom Thumb and Jeff Foust of Canton as James Bailey.

Barnum runs from April 19-28, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8:00 PM and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. Ticket prices range from $13-16. Click here for ticket information.