History of the Opera: A love story on stage: The Mallory Family

Katie Cederholm Mallory of Conklin, Michigan, first set foot on the Opera stage in the Northland Players’ 2009 production of ‘Chicago.’ Chicago.’ I was one of the dancers and we would rehearse and rework the dances to fit the stage. The first was “All I Care About is Love” with Billy, played by Bernie Hepburn.

Joni Reed (who is just awesome) was the choreographer and we were often on stage, on the floor. We even had Bernie on our backs and rolled him over us at one point. It’s always a lot of expectation and discovery and the need to be silent during everything that’s going on.

Brett Mallory and Warren at 5 months in the 2014 Follies.

Here I was lying on the floor of this scene, looking at the lights (sometimes upside down in this dance!). I felt just about every “ghost” of anyone who had ever been there. I felt small for having been one of many, for so many years, but somehow connected with the people of the past who were just standing there. Then I was put back to my time and place when the music started up again.

Katie also had a near miss. A young man from Pellston auditioned for “Chicago” and got a part. He pulled out of the show due to a scheduling conflict. Katie didn’t meet Brett Mallory until the audition for the next show. In 2010, they were cast together in “Guys and Dolls” and it was fate. Katie and Brett Mallory, current alderman and interim mayor of Cheboygan, married in 2011.

1921 ad for the "pretty" in the Democratic Cheboygan.

The couple went on to star in Northland Players and Rivertown Follies productions. In 2013, Katie was seven months pregnant with her first child, Warren, in “White Christmas.” Warren took the stage in person at 5 months old in the 2014 Rivertown Follies.

The Follies have been part of the Cheboygan Theater for over 100 years. Called “The Jollies” in vaudeville days, a traveling production still travels from town to town, bringing producers, sets and music. Community members sign up as actors, dancers and singers, and within a week they put on a show. Fans of all ages take part. Everyone who auditions gets a part. Then, like today, the funds raised through the show are donated to a local charity. Many locals, children and adults, are introduced to the low pressure scene, all in good fun shows like the Follies and go on to bigger productions including school plays and the Northern Players community theatre.

Kathy King Johnson is Executive Director of the Cheboygan Region Arts Council and Opera House.  Originally from Cheboygan, she is a Hopwood Prize-winning writer from the University of Michigan.

Katie and Brett still appear regularly on the Follies and on Northland Players shows like “the Pajama Game” and “the Naughty Chaperone.” In the 2019 Follies, Warren, 5, returned to the Opera with his sister Annabelle, 3, who followed him on stage. This year, Warren and Annabelle try their hand at Missoula Children’s Theater 2022. The Missoula Children’s Theater auditions children of all ages, and each is assigned a role. A small red truck from Montana arrives with everything needed to put on a show except actors. The Missoula Children’s Theater is a free opportunity for any child in Cheboygan to learn acting, singing and dancing from professional actors. Community theater is the beating heart of the Opera.

Now 6 years old, Annabelle is enrolled in the Cheboygan Area Arts Council Dance School. Katie says her kids love performing on stage at the Opera. “You can see their excitement as they first step out from behind the curtain and the lights fill their eyes.”

Continued:History of the Opera: Family Stories on Stage: Andrew Kurtz

Continued:History of the Opera: Family stories on stage: Jack Barber

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Eight-year-old Warren says, “It’s cool that you’re part of history here when you think it’s just a milestone.

Katie gives back to the Opera House by serving on the board of the Cheboygan Area Arts Council, which runs the Opera House. “To have this chance to be a steward in the continuation of the Opera is a no-brainer. I haven’t done anything monumental, but I’m part of this team that has kept this treasure alive. It ebbs and flows through time and has persevered through the challenges for decades including the latest Covid closures There even seems to be a resurgence of interest in the Opera It is important to bring people together after being apart for so long This symbol of Cheboygan sits in the heart of downtown.To say I saw Jeff Daniels, Garrison Keillor, The Battlefield Band, Swan Lake and my kids school program on the same stage.

Annabelle, 3, and Warren, 5, under the iconic arches of the 2019 Rivertown Follies.

— Kathy King Johnson is the former Executive Director of the Cheboygan Opera House.

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