Annie may be the star of the show, but she isn’t the only one getting the chance to live out her dreams. It’s been three years since the national tour of Annie debuted, but David Barton, who plays Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, has yet to stop giving thanks for his good fortune.
A former youth pastor, Barton spent the last several years as a theater arts teacher at Pope John Paul II, a Nashville-area private high school. It’s ironic, seeing as how his students are one of the main reasons he’s acting professionally today. When they heard about auditions for the touring production, they thought he would be perfect for the part. After all, they thought he had the looks, the personality, even the role down-pat. Barton recently had starred as Daddy Warbucks in a local production of the musical with the Steeple Players, the community theater he started with his wife Cay more than 15 years ago.
“A lot of my students were in the show with me and found out about the Nashville tour auditions and said, ‘You really ought to go,'” Barton says. “It’s hard to tell your kids ‘no,’ and I thought, ‘Well, at the very least this would be a neat experience, and I can pass along the information of what a New York City audition is like, and have that experience for the classroom.’ Not ever thinking that I’d actually end up getting the part.”
Barton’s passion for performing started as a child, and was inspired by watching his favorite actors come alive in movies, on television and onstage. He studied the energy and emotion they put into their performances and longed to be in front of the audience having that type of fun. But it wasn’t until his late teens – early adult years that his hunger for live theater became intense. “It really began more as a desire to do music and singing, but once I discovered the live stage and saw people like Ben Vereen and others perform live, it was just something that got under my skin, that I haven’t been able to get out of my system. And hopefully, I never will,” he says.
After graduating from college, Barton began acting professionally with a regional theater in Texas, but decided to cut his career short after a performance caused him to almost miss the birth of his first daughter. Instead, he channeled his creative expression into teaching and non-acting work in local theaters. However, he’s living proof that when it’s meant to be, a dream can never be denied.
“The dream of being on the big stage never really died,” Barton says. “It was just set aside as something that probably was not going to happen for me. Then in 2007, when they auditioned for the 30th anniversary tour, my youngest daughter was graduating from high school and my wife said, ‘You’ve wanted to do this all your life and if you don’t do this now, you’re going to regret it forever.’ So I tried it, and here we are.
“I remind myself every night when I walk out on that stage, that I’m living a dream that a lot of people had and were never able to fulfill,” he says. “So I cherish that, hang on to that and enjoy every single moment of living this amazing dream.”
And amazing it is. Barton says his life as a performer is drastically different than his life as a teacher. Now, normalcy is a thing of the past. He spends his days on the bus and nights in hotel rooms alone, but the time in-between — when he’s onstage and constantly being applauded for his effort — makes up for it all. And for him, that’s reward enough.
“I always say, ‘They pay me to travel.’ [But] what I do every night, I’d do for free.”
Bet your bottom dollar on having a good time as Annie plays the Fabulous Fox, Jan. 13-17.