City of Grosse Pointe police
veteran Eddie Tujaka trades uniform for stage makeup when off duty
After 28½ years Senior Lieutenant Eddie Tujaka knows the drill well. Arrive early, change out of your civilian clothes and into the required apparel. Review the marching orders with the rest of the team, make sure everything you need is in working order, and where it needs to be, before you begin your rounds. As the clock hits 8:00 it’s time to begin.
As a highly trained and decorated public defender and military veteran, this sounds like the beginning of Tujaka’s typical work day with the City of Grosse Pointe’s Police & Fire department. It’s also exactly what takes place on the night of a stage performance at Fries Auditorium as he joins his Grosse Pointe Theatre actors and crew getting ready to entertain 400 theater-goers.
Tujaka and an energetic cast and crew will be lighting up the stage in the next two weeks as GPT brings the Irving Berlin holiday classic, White Christmas, to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial for a nine-performance run, beginning on Saturday, December 14th and running through Sunday, December 22nd.
Everyone involved with this high-caliber production is a volunteer, but the only difference in ability between these talented amateurs and the professionals on Broadway is the paycheck. The desire and commitment required is the same.
So how does a local police officer get involved? Just like everyone else involved. It’s fun. It’s a challenge. It’s fulfilling. Ask any of the 400+ members at GPT why they’re involved, or how they got involved, and you’ll receive 400+ different answers. Tujaka is no different. His path to GPT is as unique as his tremendous mustache.
“About three years ago I was the lead investigator in a very high profile homicide investigation. After we ended up getting first-degree homicide convictions on the parties involved we were approached by the Discovery Channel to appear on a crime investigator show. They filmed here for 10 days and I was involved for eight of those shoot days, reenacting plain clothes surveillance scenes and being interviewed on-camera. It really sparked my interest in theater and my daughter Jessica told me about a show at Grosse Pointe Theatre, A Trip to Bountiful, that was holding auditions. There was a part for a sheriff that I figured I might have a shot at, and got it. Even though I was brand new everyone accepted me with open arms. I had a fantastic time with the show, the cast, the crew, director Ron Bernas, and from that moment I was hooked. Now, when I see a show and I think there’s a part for me I’m there.”
That’s an understatement. Since catching the bug in 2011 Eddie has been seen onstage in Jekyll & Hyde, which included an amazing death scene, Oklahoma and Big River, where he showcased his singing chops and a wonderful Southern accent, the drama Rehearsal For Murder, The Drowsy Chaperone, where he played a singing gangster, a small walk-on role in Gypsy, and this past October in the outdoor historical production, Legends of the Lake.
Coincidentally, Tujaka played a General in Jekyll & Hyde, his current role in White Christmas, and his director for that earlier show is his current love interest in this show, Beverly Dickinson. “Eddie is a curmudgeonly old General and I’m a curmudgeonly old actress and we just have a blast playing these crotchety old people,” shares Dickinson. “He may own the hotel and like to bark out the orders, but it’s quite clear who is in charge … me!”
Getting cast in this many shows in just over two years is quite impressive, but it also is a testament to Tujaka’s effervescent personality. He’s got that tough guy policeman persona, but he’s also got a soft side. This is not lost on his director in White Christmas. “He’s a character, he’s definitely a character, he can do anything we throw at him,” claims director Don Bischoff, who also plays one of the lead characters and shares a number of scenes with Eddie. “The wisdom and nice demeanor he has makes him special.”
“Theater has become my release from the stress of work,” according to Tujaka. “I don’t golf or fish, this is my hobby. And I’m around some of the most wonderful people. They’re now lifelong friends.”
If you’d like to see Eddie in White Christmas there are plenty of chances. Performance dates and times are Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 2 p.m.; Sunday, December 15 at 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday, December 17, Wednesday, December 18 & Thursday, December 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, December 21 at 2 p.m.; and Sunday, December 22 at 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for White Christmas are $24. Group rates are available. For tickets and information call 313-881-4004, buy tickets in person from the Grosse Pointe Theatre ticket office at 315 Fisher Road, Grosse Pointe (Monday -Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.), or buy tickets on line at www.gpt.org. (There is a $3 per ticket surcharge for online ticket purchases.)
White Christmas is sponsored by John and Marlene Boll as their gift to our community, and by the Masco Corporation Foundation for recognizing our military veterans and their families for their service. During the run of the show GPT will provide an opportunity for its audiences to participate in a collection of needed items for our troops. This will not only compliment the story of White Christmas but will also support GPT’s partnership with the Grosse Pointe War Memorial where the theatre group performs its main-stage productions. GPT is collaborating with the GPWM Veterans Committee’s Soldiers’ Support Fund, chaired by businessman Ed Lazar, to collect and ship the items as a way of thanking our troops in Afghanistan for their commitment and service to our country.
Collection bins will be in the lobby of the GPWM Fries Auditorium during the run of White Christmas so anyone can participate by donating messages of cheer; wrapped hard candy, beef jerky, chewing gum, powdered drink mixes, playing cards, lip balm, black cotton athletic socks, deodorant, razors, baby wipes, foot powder, paperback books, magazines (for both male and female troops), ant traps, fly tape, new video games; Xbox, Wii or other gaming systems, new or gently used movie DVDs; Frisbees and new sports equipment for baseball, football, etc. New laptop computers are needed so troops can communicate with families. Monetary donations are tax deductible. Make checks payable to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial (Soldiers’ Support Fund in memo), 32 Lake Shore Rd., Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236. For a complete list of needed items, visit www.gpt.org.