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April 13, 1990 - Image 79

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-04-13

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Spotlight On...



Performer and producer
Nancy Gurwin and the 'stages' in
her life. Now, the theatrical
queen will play a princess.


Special to The Jewish News


t's not easy being a
princess and a pro-
ducer at the same time.
But Nancy Gm-win can
handle it.
In six performances, from
April 21-29, Gurwin will star
as Princess Winnefred in
Once Upon A Mattress,
presented by Nancy Gurwin
Productions and the Jewish
Community Center.
Gurwin is no stranger to
stagecraft. Under contract
with the JCC for four seasons,
she's put on a multitude of
musicals: Funny Girl, Snoopy,
Fiddler on the Roof and West
Side Story, to name just a few.
And before her Center stint,
Gurwin and company lit up
dinner theater stages all over
"We did all the great shows
no one else would attempt,"
she says.
It's a long way from Broad-
way to the Botsford Inn. Im-
porting a musical from the
New York stage to a Detroit
dinner theater, Gurwin ex-
plains, poses problems whose
solutions aren't found in the
First of all, she says, a local
producer has to find a way to
keep that budget down. Big
musicals with big casts are
notorious for costs that can
crescendo out of sight.
Then, there's the issue of
lighting. Gurwin and her
director would walk into a
low-ceiling room that was
constructed as a banquet
facility and have to come up
with a way to hang the lights.
Stage size presents yet
another dilemma. A full-scale
Funny Girl, Gurwin says,
originally played on a 40x80
stage in New York. In Detroit,
Gurwin had an 18x20 stage
to work with.
"It's like doing a show in a
bowling alley," she says. "And
literally, some of the rooms
were bowling alleys."
But when it comes to
theater challenges, Gurwin's
just a girl who can't say no.

When she would announce
her intentions to stage a show
of considerable magnitude,
she often encountered a
chorus of doubt.
"People would say to me,
`You're out of your mind, Nan-
cy.' And the minute they
would say that to me, I'd say:
`OK! You don't think I can do
it? I'll show you!"
"That was my claim to
fame. I got directors and
choreographers who could
mold big shows and scale
them down — but in such a
way that you'd still say, 'How
did she do it?' And, we hadn't
cut anything."
If someone were to stage
The Nancy Gurwin Story, the
opening line might be .. .
Once upon a time, there was
a little girl who knew she
wanted to be an actress.
Born in Detroit, Gurwin at-
tended Detroit Country Day
School, Oak Park High and
trained at the Detroit Conser-
vatory of Music. She is a
graduate of both the renown-
ed Neighborhood Playhouse
School of the Theater in New
York City — and Olivet
The play was always the
thing. "When I was young,"
she says, "acting was all I
wanted to do. I was in all the
school plays. I had the leads.
I was called the Ethel Mer-
man — and Mary Martin — of
Oak Park."
During school vacations,
Gurwin would accompany her
father, the owner of a dry
goods business, on his fre-
quent buying trips to New
"I started seeing all these
fabulous musicals as a kid. I
fell in love with them. And I
just knew I was being groom-
ed for what I wanted to do.
There was never any question
about it."-
After high school gradua-
tion, Gurwin flew to New
York, auditioned for the
Neighborhood Playhouse and
became the youngest person
ever to be accepted there.
Among her instructors were
many noted theatrical
figures. Gurwin studied


The Gnome Restaurant,
4124 Woodward Avenue,
Detroit, The Ron Coden
Show, 9: 30 p.m., 11 p.m.
and 12:30 p.m. Fridays
and Saturdays through
April, admission,


Waterfront Inn, 8635
Cooley Lake Road, Union
Lake, Bob Posch, through
April, admission,


Detroit, Rumors, through

April 15, admission,

Wait Until Dark, through

May 6, admission,
644 3533.

Princess Winnefred Nancy Gurwin

dance with Martha Graham,
for example. The overall
training she received was
comprehensive, including ac-
ting, pantomime, improvisa-
tion and all aspects of theater
From Neighborhood Play-
house, Gurwin moved to off-
Broadway where she played
Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.
But, she says, she realized
that she still needed more
background and decided to
come back to Michigan,
where she attended Olivet
When she had her Olivet
diploma in hand, Gurwin
deliberated as to whether she
should return to New York.
"Then I met my husband,"
she says. "And four kids later
. . . I had an opportunity to
try out for a play at the old
Jewish Center on Meyers and
Six Mile.
"I had done nothing for
quite a few years, because the
kids were all little. But I
thought, well, I'll give it a
whirl. And I haven't stopped
Gurwin played the dinner
theater circuit and, 13 years
ago, formed her own produc-
tion company. In collabora-
tion with Phil Marcus Esser,
she opened I Do! I Do! at the
Botsford Inn. What was to
have been a three-month run
turned into a standing-room-
only success of nine month's


"I adored it. It was incredi-
ble. At that time, dinner
theater was just taking off —
and I Do! I Do! was a show
everybody loved."
Having her own production
company has allowed Gurwin
an element of control an actor
wouldn't ordinarily have. As
a performer, she'd seen room
for improvements she
thought she could make — in
terms of material selection
and set design.
"I thought to myself, if I
could get a little money
together, maybe I could be the
first woman to have my own
company. So I got together
with my best friend, Donna
Zatkin, who has since become
my producer when I'm on
stage, and some other friends
— and we decided we would
Gurwin set out to be
Detroit's First Lady of Dinner
Theater. "And as it turned
out," she says, "it's been just
In addition to relishing
sellout shows and positive
reviews, the First Lady is also
very proud of her family. Hus-
band Donald, an attorney,
prepares all her contracts
and, over the years, has been
her consistent supporter
through hectic weeks of long
In various roles, her quartet
of one daughter and three
sons have gotten into Gur-
win's act on occasion.

Oakland University,
Rochester, The
Immigrant: A Hamilton
County Album, through
April 22, admission,

Bullpen: A Detroit Tiger
Baseball Comedy,

through May 6,
admission, 868-1347.


Players' Club, 3321
Jefferson Avenue, How
To Eat Like a Child,
through May 20,
admission, 559-6PBP.



Detroit Institute of Arts,
Too Beautiful for You,
April 13-15, admission,


Wayne State University,
Detroit. 8 p.m. April 13,
A Chorus of Disapproval.
8 p.m. April 14, She
Stoops To Conquer.
Admission, 577-1972.


Detroit Institute of Arts.
April 14-21, Snow White,



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