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As Long as We Remember...

July 13, 2009

Becoming a Billionaire Part 2

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks is a billionaire industrialist who lives in a grand mansion at 987 Fifth Avenue in New York City. He's gruff, focused, and intent on building his empire, in spite of the onset of the Great Depression. He has a great deal of affection for his large staff, especially his personal assistant, Grace Farrell, although he goes to great lengths to not let that be known.


Once a year, during the week of Christmas, Warbucks open his mansion to a child from New York's Municipal Orphanage. This particular year, Ms. Farrell deviates from standard practice and instead of bringing a little boy home, selects a little girl to spend the week.


Flustered by having a confident and charming little girl in his midst, and unconditioned as he is to anything out of the norm, Warbucks falls hard for this particular little girl. His ordered and structured world is turned upside down, and he slowly shifts from the all-business executive to a loving parent.


One other observation about Warbucks: he is follically challenged. Not just a bald spot, either. He is completely and totally bald. It matters, trust me.


Next week, the stage at the Jack Kussmaul Theater at Frederick Community College will come alive as the interior of an orphanage, Warbuck's mansion, a Depression-era Hooverville, the cabinet room at the White House, and as a busy New York City street. Annie is on its way, and opening night is July 24.


A cast of over 50 people means that rehearsals resemble a military operation. A number of talented actors/actresses play multiple roles, so it looks like even more people are involved. The onstage performers are backed by more than a dozen technical crew members, everything from costumes to lighting to set construction.


Rehearsals occur in a non-descript cinder block building adjacent to Everedy Square, the home of the Frederick Towne Players studio. As is the case with most community theater groups, FTP depends on the largesse of local businesses to survive. Bert Anderson is one of those angels; he makes the space available for the Players to do their work.


Summer nights leading up to a musical debut find the parking lot of the studio along East Patrick Street filled with singers and dancers, busy refining their performances while other scenes are rehearsed in the spare interior space.


Speaking of rehearsals, portraying Warbucks represents my most adventurous local theater turn. First, the audition process involved a number of other talented adult male actors who aspired to play the part. Each one who filled out an audition form had to check a box that stated: Are you willing to shave your head for the role? Ominous request, but during an audition it just didn't seem like such a big deal. One guy even showed at the auditions with a shaved head. Hopefully, he is naturally bereft of hair and thought the bald pate gave him the "look." I'd hate to think he made that commitment in order to win the part. Talk about sacrifice!


The audition must have gone well, because I got the call that I had the part. Suddenly, that little innocuous checkmark on that form took on a whole new reality.


The Paul Mitchell Temple (the upscale hair/salon and training academy), located in the former Masonic building on West Church Street, offered to provide the shears and cosmetology student to operate them. A few quick swipes and Presto! No hair. Every trip past a mirror, framed picture, or storefront window results in a second look. And not because it looks so great, either!


Being Warbucks isn't just about the hair – or lack thereof. Playing the part requires line and movement memorization, character development, and worst of all, singing and dancing. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I am no singer, and I don't dance.


Teaching me to do either is an exercise in frustration for both student and teacher. I'm reminded of the old adage: You can't teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you, and angers the pig! Suffice it to say that I'm sure the show director and musical director are frustrated. Despite that, they're committed, and based on the results so far, they'll need to be!


In spite of the rigors of pig instruction, this cast is amazing, and the production is coming together beautifully. I highly recommend people get involved in a school or community theater production, if for no other reason than to see how it all falls magically into place the last few weeks. Annie is no exception, especially for the beautiful young ladies who portray the orphans. Each one a talent in their own right, they have worked incredibly hard to master their roles.


All of the principal characters are notable for the life they breathe into the roles they play, from a boozy, hair-trigger tempered orphanage director named Ms. Hannigan, to the glamorous and perfect-pitch soprano of Warbuck's assistant Grace, to a dead-on Franklin Roosevelt. This is undoubtedly one of the most talented casts, top to bottom, that FTP has ever fielded.


Controversy aside (and there certainly has been a lot of that), this has been an amazing experience. The motto of the International Thespian Society is: "Act well your part, therein all honor lies."


The cast and crew of FTP's Annie easily live up to that standard.


The Frederick Towne Players' production of Annie, directed by Samn Huffer, runs July 24, 25, 31, and Aug. 1 at 8 P.M., and July 26 and Aug. 2 at 2 P.M. at the JB Kussmaul Theater on the campus of Frederick Community College. Advance tickets can be purchased on line at


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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