By Karl Weisel (Wiesbaden Family and MWR)November 16, 2016
WIESBADEN, Germany - It's nearing Christmas, the country is in turmoil, and a brash billionaire has captured the nation's attention.
While it may seem like current events, in this make-believe story based on a popular comic strip and set in the 1930s, a little orphan girl is the inspiration for change in America.
Wiesbaden theater-goers are in for a treat when the Amelia Earhart Playhouse presents its newest production, "Annie," in December.
"This is from the mid-70s and it's as American as it comes," said Brian Buckley, the musical's director and a counselor with the Adolescent Substance Abuse Counseling Service. "It's a feel-good show."
When the future of Wiesbaden's Family and MWR playhouse was in question earlier this year due to budget constraints, volunteers stepped up in force to continue its tradition of producing outstanding, award-winning plays and musicals.
With a rich mix of service members and civilians, local nationals and families, "everyone here is more than willing to put in the long hours," said Buckley about his dedicated cast and crew.
Based on the Harold Gray comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie," the Tony Award-winning musical follows the adventures of 11-year-old Annie and her cohorts in the Municipal Girls Orphanage during the Great Depression.
After escaping from the orphanage, witnessing the devastation of a collapsed economy, only to be caught and taken back to the mean-spirited clutches of orphanage director, Miss Hannigan, Annie is invited into the world of the rich and famous as a guest of billionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks during the Christmas holidays. This leads to an encounter with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and an opportunity to help inspire his efforts to rebuild America.
"By and large 'Annie' was selected to revive our commitment to the love of theater and as a morale booster. It's entertaining for the people who are involved as well as to audiences," said Buckley, adding that its Christmas theme is also relevant this time of year.
"I love the story," said U.S. Army Europe's Maj. Aaron Selph, who plays Oliver Warbucks. "I love my role -- a strong man who is initially only looking out for himself, but who learns to look after someone else."
Selph, who played trombone in a high school production of "Annie" and sang several opera roles while in college, said it's great sharing the experience with the members of his family who are also involved in the show. "This is doing something together that builds toward a greater goal. We're doing something as a family -- being part of the community."
"For me this has been therapeutic," said Sterling Munro, who plays "Rooster" and is a Department of Defense civilian employee with the Defense Contract Audit Agency.
"I did two shows last year -- 'Inherit the Wind' and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (for which he won a prestigious Topper Award) -- and the experience helped him overcome the grief of losing his wife to cancer. "It's been such a positive experience -- this is like joining a family. … This has been part of the path of happiness."
"I feel like 'Annie' is one of those really iconic musicals," said veteran actor Pfc. Jake Jansen, who plays multiple roles including Drake the butler, among others, and is a member of Company A, 2nd Military Intelligence Battalion, when not engaged in the theater.
"I love the idea of stepping into someone else's shoes. With each character I've played, it's given me a different lens to see the world through," he said, adding, "It's the easiest thing to do -- to pretend to be someone else. … I've met so many people in the theater -- there's no art form truly like it."
USAREUR's Lt. Col. Carlos Pena, who also plays several roles in "Annie," said for him it's also a family affair. "My daughter said 'hey dad, will you please do something with us'" and the result is the whole family getting involved both on- and backstage.
"This is my first time doing anything like this," Pena said. "I'm excited -- it's something new, and doing something with my family (after often being separated during deployments) is something to remember.
"This a way for us to open up -- to be ambassadors for our country," Pena added, noting that presenting American theater in Germany is a lifetime experience. "It's almost like you join a family."
In addition to being therapeutic, getting involved with community theater is a great way for participants to learn self-confidence and how to be collaborative, said Buckley. "It boosts morale and it's a positive source of entertainment in a safe environment."
The Amelia Earhart Playhouse will present "Annie" Dec. 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. Matinees will be featured Dec. 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students or $60 for groups of five. Tickets can be purchased at the Amelia Earhart Box Office; Wiesbaden Arts and Crafts Center; and online through WebTrac, https://webtrac.mwr.army.mil/webtrac/Wiesbadenrectrac.html. They will be available starting Nov. 21.
The Playhouse is located at Konrad-Adenauer-Ring 39 in Wiesbaden -- with plenty of parking available on the Amelia Earhart Complex. For more information call civ (0611) 143-548-9812.