Leslie Ann Handleman and her costars in Blithe Spirit.

Leslie Ann Handleman is a traveling actress, returning home to Michigan to play Elvira in Blithe Spirit.

Photography by Sean Carter Photography

In between professional stage roles, Leslie Ann Handelman became a certified fitness instructor. Besides keeping herself strong, she helps others build strong bodies in ways she first learned at a gym near a St. Louis theater.

Ironically, in her current role as Elvira in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, she abandons body to portray the apparition of a writer’s late first wife. Her entrance into the action comes as she is conjured up in a séance and supposedly is seen and heard only by the writer (portrayed by Timothy C. Goodwin), who thought he was doing general research for his next book.
The comedy, being presented through Feb. 2 at the Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester, sets up predicaments centered on the author and his past and current (Dani Cochrane) wives.

“I read this play for the first time probably 20 years ago, and I wanted to start doing it soon,” says Handelman, 38, who grew up in West Bloomfield, lives in Chicago and returns for her seventh role at Meadow Brook.

“It’s like being on the wish list for a very long time, and I’m so excited to finally get to work on it with friends — other actors, designers, a director and stage crew I’ve worked with before. It’s great fun.

“In the construct of the play, the other characters think the author has lost his mind. Although they don’t see me, they see flowers and vases moving. When I step into this role, I feel I get the license to be a little bit ridiculous.”

While attending West Bloomfield High School, Handelman first admitted to herself that she wanted to be an actress but was a little nervous about telling anybody else.

She thought she would connect with theater by being a physical therapist on national tours and help the actors stay healthy, but she set aside that idea when talking with her parents, Nancy and Bill Handelman, who were very supportive of her acting interests.

Leslie Ann Handleman and her costars in Blithe Spirit.
Leslie Ann Handelman, Timothy C. Goodwin and Katie Akers in Blithe Spirit at Meadow Brook Theatre

Handelman earned a bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University and master’s degree at the University of Illinois. A play, The Blank Page, written by Kitty Dubin and produced by the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET), became her official professional Michigan debut.

She soon moved to Chicago and spent the last 13 years based there while working all over the Midwest. She has appeared in The Merchant of Venice for the Cardinal Stage Company in Indiana, The Rivals for Door Shakespeare in Wisconsin and A Christmas Carol for the Nebraska Theatre Caravan in addition to productions around Illinois.

Handelman, whose family has been active with Adat Shalom Synagogue, recalls taking part in two school productions with Jewish themes — Fiddler on the Roof in high school and Backsliding in the Promised Land in college. For the second, she coached a non-Jewish cast member in saying Kaddish.

Two sisters followed in Handelman’s career direction. Amy Handelman, living in California, can be seen doing TV commercials. Elyse Handelman, in New York, worked in theater lighting design before moving into architectural interests.

Aside from stage appearances, Handelman has performed in mock trials for a law firm. Responsibilities require memorizing a tremendous amount of material to serve as a witness. Senior lawyers in the firm become judges to evaluate new lawyers.

“When I do musicals, I’m particularly thankful I spent time working on my fitness,” says Handelman, married to marketing specialist Michael Bokor. “Musicals are very grueling and physically challenging. I come in with stamina and the muscle and energy to do them.

Blithe Spirit is the first play I’ve done since becoming a mother. I was working in the play Sheer Madness at Meadow Brook in the fall of 2017 when I found out I was pregnant with twins. This play was written about 75 years ago, and it’s so funny how the jokes resonate today.”

Blithe Spirit runs through Feb. 2 at the Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester. $36-$46. (248) 377-3300

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