Against all odds

When faced with cancer for the third time, many people might give up hope. But not Stephanie Elaine Samuel, a longtime member of the Grosse Pointe Theatre. A popular singer, actress and choreographer, Stephanie has appeared in numerous musicals and comedies throughout the area, and portrayed Nicole Kidman for the HRC Moulin Rouge Extravaganza Dinner in 2003. And beginning Sept. 19 she'll combine her passions for rock gospel, music theater and acting when she opens in "Godspell." BTL recently spoke with Stephanie about surviving cancer, her love of theater – and why she's moving to Windsor soon with her wife, Kathy.

You've had quite an interesting life. You spent four years as lead singer for Carnival Cruise Lines (and was twice named Best Performer on the High Seas), was lead alto and soloist for Renaissance Unity for eight years and now you're in "Godspell" at Grosse Pointe Theatre. How long have you been performing with GPT? And what first brought you to the troupe?
I literally was born into the group; my parents were members since before I was a twinkle in Mom's eye! I am an official GPT baby, performing since the age of 6, and became a member on my 18th birthday.

What is it about "Godspell" – which is based on the Gospel of St. Matthew – that attracted you to the show?
I have always loved the musical score and vocal arrangements. There is one song in particular, "Turn Back O Man," that blows the roof off. I am thrilled and honored to perform it in all its glory.

You're also a three-time cancer survivor. Did your battle with cancer lead to any philosophical decisions regarding your life and career?
Being given a second chance three different times is a rare thing. Each time, it made me that much more grateful to be able to share my God-given talents. I have always been a spiritual person, which aided in my medical challenges. Those second chances made me stop, think and absorb what is truly important.

So did those decisions factor into your decision to audition for "Godspell"?
"Godspell" is the perfect "full circle" show for me. To have sung for so many years with a gospel choir and being a music-theater performer ties it all together. Add in my spiritual background and survivorships, and it all just seems to fall into place. In my head, it was a non-negotiable!

You've been blessed with amazing gifts – and from what I can tell, a zest for life. What do you think God has planned for you?
Father/Mother God is always handing out "lessons" for us to learn; some I have mastered, while I continue to work on others. He/She also has a great sense of humor, but never gives us more than we can handle.
I remember when I was first diagnosed in 2002. My mother cried and then said, "You're 31…why you?" I replied, "Mom, God feels I can handle this…and I will. I won't give it any energy and only focus on good!" And no matter what challenges come my way, I try to live by that.
As far as the big picture, there are many more roles I need to play – Mama Rose in "Gypsy," for one – so I imagine I'll be around for awhile, singing, tap dancing and being sassy!

One of your blessings is your partner, whom you married less than a year ago. But to live as – and be recognized as – a married couple, you're immigrating to Canada soon. How tough a decision was that for you? And how easy has it been to arrange your immigration?
The decision was easy! I finally found the true love of my life. We were dear friends for four years, and neither of us saw it coming.
The process has been huge! There has been enough paperwork to kill off a small forest, not to mention the "hurry up and wait" syndrome. But anyone who knows Kathy also knows I am the luckiest gal alive. And I know of many people, including my cousin and his wife, who have had an 18-month process. Compared to our seven-month process, it seems our glass is half full!

Grosse Pointe Theatre at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore Road, Grosse Pointe Farms. Sept. 19, 24-27, 30, Oct. 1-2. $24. 313-881-4004.


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