Jeff Manes: Kouts wife, mom big on NWI theater circuit
November 23, 2012 3:04PM
Sheree Wheeler-Gudeman, 39, of Kouts has won several Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theater Foundation awards. She also gives voice lessons and coaches girls for the talent portions of pageants. | Photo provided
Updated: December 26, 2012 6:18AM
“... And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.”
— Charles A. Miles, 1913
Sheree Wheeler-Gudeman is active in community theater and has won Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theater Foundation awards as either Best Featured Actress or Best Principle Actress in “Guys & Dolls,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Mame.”
She jokingly considers herself the Susan Lucci of Northwest Indiana community theater — she’s been nominated 22 times. She won her first NIETF award on the 14th nomination.
Wheeler-Gudeman, 39, is married to Matthew Gudeman. They live in Kouts and are raising two sons, Garrett, 12, and Max, 7.
Sheree teaches private voice lessons.
Were you a tomboy while growing up in Kouts?
“No, I played with dolls,” she said. “I really liked Holly Hobbie. My husband bought me one a few years ago because my original doll kind of died or deteriorated; they were made out of cloth.”
Did you sing at a young age?
“Always. I would stand in the yard near Indiana 49 and sing for the cars as they drove by.”
What kinds of songs would you sing to the motorists?
“Back then, it was all based on my Disneyland records. The Disney movies were my favorites. When I was little, you couldn’t get a DVD or VHS of them.
“I had a little storybook-record player. Tinker Bell would chime every time you turned the page.
“At the end of the record, there would be two songs from the movie; I memorized them all. Those are the songs I would perform for the cars as they drove by.”
Your favorite Disney films?
“ ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and ‘Cinderella’ — all the princess-fairy tale kind of thing.”
“Church has always been important to me. I’ve sung in church since I was little. When I was really young, we went to the Kouts Christian Church. Now, we’re a part of Kankakee Valley Christian Church.”
“ ‘When We All Get to Heaven’ and ‘In the Garden.’ ”
I’m familiar with the latter; what a beautiful song. Sheree, let’s switch gears. Your thespian side?
“When I was 13, my mom picked up some kind of Hebron advertiser, and there was an ad saying, ‘We are looking for Annie and her friends.’ The play was to take place at the Bridgeview Dinner Playhouse in Valparaiso. This was like 1986; I called on my own.
“When Mom got home, I told her, ‘I called; we have to go to an audition.’ ”
“There were 272 little girls vying for parts. I was too tall to play Annie, but I made the final call-back. I’m afraid of dogs.”
Well, I’m afraid of spiders.
“I’m not a big animal person; I like them, I’m just afraid of them. Anyway, they asked, ‘Is anyone afraid of dogs?’ When they got to me, I said, ‘Oh, no, I love dogs — dogs are great!’
“In the audience, my mom had to turn her head while biting her lip because she knew how scared I was of dogs.”
You really wanted a part in that musical.
“I got cast and played Duffy. After that, things kind of snowballed.”
Some roles, as an adult, that are near and dear to your heart?
“Maria in ‘West Side Story,’ Kate in ‘Kiss Me Kate,’ Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady,’ and Audrey in ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ I’ve played Audrey in my teens, 20s and 30s.”
Any other favorites?
“I loved doing Lucy in ‘Jekyll and Hyde.’
Let’s switch gears again. Do you advertise your voice-lesson business?
“No, strictly word-of-mouth.”
Are most of your students young girls?
“No, I work with a lot of men, like guys in their 40s who sing in bands, play guitars and want to be able to breathe right and sing better. I had a guy who started with me in the sixth grade and stayed with me all through high school; now, he’s attending college for music in Nashville.
“But I do coach a lot of little girls; the youngest I’ve had was 3.”
Any other aspects of the business?
“The other thing I got into was coaching girls for pageants, as far as their talent portions. One of my girls, through the Miss America program, was Miss Indiana Outstanding Teen. She was from Kouts.”
Must be something in the water.
“I’m working with a girl whose mother drives her 80 miles one way for the pageants. My name is getting out there a little more in the pageant circuit. A few years ago, I was teaching 24 people per week. This year, I limited who I would take. I wanted them to have a reason to sing; I didn’t want to be their reason to sing.”
Bear with this tone-deaf former steel worker, are you an alto?
“I’m a lyric soprano. You have a unique voice — second bass?”
No, I was a center fielder.
“I did my first professional theater in 1993, when I went to Kentucky and did summer stock there. I played one of the step-sisters in ‘Cinderella’ and also did ‘Pump Boys and Dinettes,’ which is a signature show of mine.
“It was rotating reps, so one night, I would do ‘Cinderella,’ and the next day, I’d do ‘Pump Boys.’
Ever venture into Chicago?
“Unfortunately, the DreamStreet Theatre Co. is defunct; it was a professional theater on the South Side. The first show they did there was ‘Pump Boys & Dinettes;’ I played Rhetta Cupp there.
“I’ve done ‘Pump Boys’ at the Theater on the Lake, right off the Fullerton (Avenue) exit, but I did the other role. There are only two female roles in ‘Pump Boys;’ I’ve played both of them numerous times.
“I’ve also directed ‘Pump Boys and Dinettes.’ Now, we get hired out to do it. We have a company called Chicago Pump Boys & Dinettes. People hire us to perform it at benefits and things like that. Our six-person cast has remained intact. The guys play all the instruments. It’s like a diner and a gas station right next to each other.”
Cool. Anything else?
“In the mid-90s, I lived in Indianapolis and was the lead singer for a group called Endless Summer; we toured around.”
What kind of music?
“A lot of covers, everything from ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ to that stupid song I hate — what’s the name of it? — ‘Love Shack.’ ”
I like the B-52s.
“I’d sing Janet Jackson’s ‘Black Cat.’ It was a wide spectrum. We played mostly corporate parties; it wasn’t really a bar band. I made enough money to live on by playing weekends. Because of that, I was able to sing the national anthem for the Indiana Pacers.
“I like to do a thing I call ‘the synagig.’ My friend, Jim Mullen, is a member of a synagogue in Illinois. We do a concert where I sing and he plays the piano. We’ve done it four five times now, and the people have asked me to come back in January. I sing in five different accents at ‘the synagig.’”
Sheree Wheeler-Gudeman is a very talented but modest person. If I wouldn’t have asked her certain questions, she wouldn’t have mentioned most of her accomplishments.
The kid from Kouts has come a long way, but it all started when she began belting out Disney tunes along Indiana 49, while clutching her beloved Holly Hobbie.