Spring Lake Park native lands part in Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s ‘Birdie’

Ever since she was seven years old and saw her first show at Chanhassen, she dreamed about performing at the theater.

Former Spring Lake Parker Larissa Gritti, upper right, plays teenager Margie in Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s current main stage production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”  Photo courtesy of Chanhassen Dinner Theatr
Former Spring Lake Parker Larissa Gritti, upper right, plays teenager Margie in Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s current main stage production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” Photo courtesy of Chanhassen Dinner Theatre

Twenty years later, Larissa Gritti, who was raised in Spring Lake Park, finds herself on Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s stage singing and dancing up a storm in its current production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“I remember being really, really young and thinking that’s what I want to do,” Gritti said in an interview with ABC Newspapers.

The show, directed by Michael Brindisi and choreographed by Tamara Kangas Erickson, marks the theater’s premiere of the popular production played out on its main stage.

Gritti plays the role of Margie in the teen chorus and is a member of the Bye Bye Birdie Fan Club. She does a lot of screaming and swooning for her rock-star idol Birdie.

Although Gritti is new to CDT, she in no way is a novice thespian.

She immersed herself in “Birdie” rehearsals just two days after the closing of “Spring Awakening” in which she played Ilse at Theater Latté Da based out of Minneapolis. And before that, she played lead character Peggy Sawyer in “42nd Street” at Bloomington Civic Theatre.

Gritti, now a resident of Minneapolis, has performed at such venues as the Ordway Center, Jungle Theater and the Walking Shadow Theatre Company.

She holds a bachelor of arts degree in acting with a dance minor from University of Minnesota-Duluth.

She always took the lead

For Gritti, the best part of her acting job is serving others and transporting audiences to new places, she says.

Gritti’s mother Tracey Anderson, formerly of Spring Lake Park, recalls when she and her mother, Joan Haapanen, also of Spring Lake Park, enrolled Gritti in dance lessons as a three-year-old.

If other dance students were not on task, Gritti would reprimand them, Anderson said.

“She alway had to take the lead and be a perfectionist in what she was doing,” Anderson said.

Gritti started her nascent acting career in third-grade at the former Kenneth Hall Elementary, when she was cast as Beam, a character in the play “Sun.” It was her first play.

“I remember being terrified of having to learn so many lines,” she said. “But I loved it.”

As a fifth-grader, she was cast as a Christmas tree angel-topper in a sixth-grade production, also at Spring Lake Park’s Kenneth Hall. Fifth-graders at the time (when District 16 had K-6 schools) were usually cast in ensemble roles. “And that was a really big deal for me,” Gritti said.

Larissa attended Westwood Middle School in grades seven and eight and graduated from Spring Lake Park High School.

As a freshman and sophomore, she played ensemble parts in SLPHS’s musicals.

For now Gritti juggles her acting jobs with a part-time job at a Twin Cities Caribou Coffee shop.

But she’s hoping to rally her stage career into a full-time profession.

“My goal is to continue working and being able to make a living off of what I love,” Gritti said.

Also, Jodi Carmeli, a resident of Coon Rapids, who earlier this year played a leading role of Kira, a magical Greek muse in CDT’s premiere of “Xanadu,” returns to the stage as part of the “Birdie” cast. She plays the character, Gloria Rasputin.

Award-winning show

“Bye Bye Birdie” is based on a book by Michael Stewart, with lyrics by Lee Adams and music by Charles Strouse.

The plot of this Tony Award winning show is a take-off on rock icon Elvis Presley’s upsetting (to his fans) induction into the Army just when his golden career is skyrocketing.

In “Birdie,” the character Conrad Birdie embodies the essence of Elvis. The name Conrad was a word play on Conway Twitty, a late 1950s country star and rival of Presley’s. The action gets hot when a contest is launched. One lucky teen will be the recipient of Birdie’s all-American kiss on the Ed Sullivan show. Teen Kim MacAfee of Sweet Apple, Ohio, wins the honor. The small town swoons, youngsters and oldsters alike, when Birdie shows up in their closely knit community for a stay at the MacAfee household. A wild and funny uproar ensues.

“Birdie” audience members are treated to such memorable tunes as “Going Steady, “Put On a Happy Face,” “Telephone Hour,” “A Lot of Livin’ To Do” and “Kids.”

The 1963 musical comedy film featured actor Dick Van Dyke as Albert Peterson. Paul Linde was Kim’s father Harry MacAfee. The movie showcased singer/dancer Ann-Margret’s breakout performance as teenage Kim MacAfee. Bobby Rydell played Hugo Peabody and Janet Leigh played Rosie DeLeon (changed to Rosie Alvarez) to name a few cast members of note.

Chanhassen Dinner Theatre presents “Bye Bye Birdie,” through March 30. Tickets are $61-$81, dinner and show. The theater is located at 501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen. For more information and tickets, visit www.ChanhassenDT.com or call the box office at 952-934-1525.

Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]