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Generations of Annies, but one Daddy Warbucks
0703Annie
Since 1990, John Melvin has played the role of Daddy Warbucks in Gainesville Parks and Recreation's "Annie" production. This year's production begins Wednesday.

0703Annie

John Melvin talks about his role as Daddy Warbucks.

Every few years, another cute red-headed girl takes the stage in Gainesville Parks and Recreation's production of "Annie."

But while the title character changes, the role of Daddy Warbucks has been steadily held by a local and naturally bald-headed attorney, John Melvin.

He can recall with precision the names of the three Annies he's worked with since taking on the role in 1990, even recalling where each little girl's career took her.

For example, Amy Mulkey was his first Annie. She went on to become Miss Georgia in 2001.

"She's just a fine, fine young woman," Melvin said.

The second Annie was Rachael Gonitzke and the third was Stephanie Ferguson.

"And now this time it's Georgia Whitehead," he said. Georgia's 10 and is just doing a really marvelous job."

The large production, sponsored by Gainesville's parks and recreation department, includes several dozen children from all over Hall County. And one well-behaved dog as Sandy. Although, admits stage manager Angela Ivey, the dog direction is left to the professional dog wranglers.

"I leave that to the people who have little tricks that they use to make it perform the way it needs to," she said. "Sweet little dog - it's cute."

Melvin said he's been drawn to musical theater productions over the years. Growing up in a musical family, he played the trumpet in high school and college. His college theater director was Ed Cabell, for whom Gainesville State College's theater is named for, and he was in the first production at the Georgia Mountains Center, "Hello Dolly."

When it came time to put together the first production of "Annie," Melvin said he got a little push from the director and his longtime friend, Pam Ware.

"Daddy Warbucks - Oliver Warbucks - is always played by Yul Brynner, with that bald head. Well, I have one naturally. So with my height and bald head, I'm sort of ... Pam just cast me in this role," he said. "Pam just said, ‘I want you to try out for Daddy Warbucks in "Annie."' I think she already knew what role she wanted me to try out for."

Of course, the production is more than just the kids - although they play a big role in its success.

There's the backstage crew, lighting technicians and an orchestra put together by longtime band director Mercer Crook.

"It's a lot of hard work but it's a lot of fun. There's so much that goes into making, hopefully, what we feel will be a successful production," Melvin said. "You've got crew members, people back stage, the sound people, the lighting people. ... There are a lot of people involved that are not on stage that are necessary and play a very important role in a successful theater production."

Working with the kids all these years is something Melvin said he always looks forward to.

"It invigorates me. It really does," he said. "Of course, the orphans, they grow up, so I've had the opportunity, these little girls who were 9, 10, 11, 12, are now all grown up.

"It gives me a opportunity to meet and make new friends and get acquainted with friends who I don't have an awful lot of contact with unless we're in a theater production," he added. "It's a special group of people to have fun with."

And Ivey added that the little girls who are the orphans are the ones keeping the rest of the cast in line, and are guaranteed to delight the audience.

"The girls who play the orphans and the girl who plays Annie, they're just phenomenal. They show us what it's all about every night at rehearsal," Ivey said. "They're just right on top of things."

I look forward to people seeing the production, because those little girls are just going to be a hit."

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