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Painless Parenting 

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & J & lt;/span & ohn Schuck is a whassis actor. You recognize his voice and face, you know you've seen him in something or other ... whassis name again? Conrad John Schuck: He had a recurring police-sergeant role in the early '70s opposite Rock Hudson on Macmillan & amp; Wife; he was a character in several Robert Altman films, including Painless the Polish dentist in MASH; he even played a Klingon ambassador in a couple of the Star Trek movies.





"But I started in musical theater," says Schuck. "My parents took me to Oklahoma! when I was 5, and from then on, I knew I wanted to be either an actor or a cowboy."





Schuck got to combine his wishes by singing opposite Bernadette Peters in Annie, Get Your Gun; he has also appeared in South Pacific with Reba McEntire. But the stage role he's best known for -- the one he's bringing to the INB Center on Feb. 15-18 -- is Oliver Warbucks in Annie. In fact, he made his Broadway debut in the role in 1979. (The little girl playing Annie in that production? Sarah Jessica Parker.)





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & o many of us, Schuck may be a whassis; but to Trekkies, he's forever a Klingon. He's one of only 32 people to have appeared in both television and film versions of Star Trek. (Schuck even has an anecdote about two Trekkies tracking him down for an autograph in the Australian outback.)





But there's Trekkie fame, and then there's the kind of respectability that comes with being a musical theater veteran. Schuck has been in a dozen different productions of Annie over a span of 27 years. He calls the show his "working annuity," and he has some perspective on how the show has evolved. This touring version, he says, is "an attempt to take it back closer to the original, to put flesh and bones on these characters -- who are all very broad, of course. But over the years, Miss Hannigan [the mean-spirited orphanage director] had become almost farcical. It was brilliantly done by several very good actresses, but it distorted the show."





Schuck says that Martin Charnin -- who directed and wrote the lyrics for the original production of Annie in 1977 and who has directed eight touring companies since, including this one -- "has put this show back in balance." And Chicago actress Alene Robertson is marvelous as Miss Hannigan, says Schuck: "She's very funny -- and without all the pratfalls."





Schuck has praise for this version's technical elements as well: "There's a new set by Ming Cho Lee that literally puts a new slant on things -- the orphanage is really tilted," Schuck says. "There's a staircase to top 'em all -- you can really see that there's some money up onstage."





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ots of changes and adjustments may keep the job interesting -- but after hundreds of performances and thousands of miles on the road, it can't be easy to keep it fresh night after night. "Well, my flip answer is: What else have you got to do for two hours?" he says.





John Schuck -- a veteran of TV, movies and stage -- is also a giving actor full of improvisational wit. They're qualities he extends to this tour's Annie, Marissa O'Donnell. "I play it a little differently each night," says Schuck. "In any long run, it's fairly important to keep it like the first night. Marissa was only 11 when we started this tour, so to keep her focused, I put different takes on each scene. It could be a technical thing -- volume, rate of speech or a timing issue, because some nights they put the applause back in there." In Warbucks' most important scenes with Annie, "I'm talking and she's reacting," says Schuck. "I do most of the talking, but you watch Annie -- she's the focus, and she should be.





"You know, I watch and listen to the joy that the [girls who play the] orphans in our show have, and it reminds me of why I went into this business. A lot of older actors become jaded -- why, I don't know. Because I don't make that choice. I love my career, and I love this show."





Annie won't be singing tomorrow, tomorrow at the INB Center -- she'll be singing next week on Thursday, Feb. 15, at 7:30 pm; on Friday, Feb. 16, at 8 pm; on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 2 pm and 8 pm; and on Sunday, Feb. 18, at 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Tickets: $30-$53. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT. For more of the Schuck interview, visit stagethrust.blogspot.com.

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