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Li'l Abner star balances theater, school and National Guard

At 6’6" and 240 pounds, 18 year old Barton Community College freshman Tyler Wassenberg has become used to being a focal point. Whether it’s his turn to be platoon leader in the national guard or gracing the silver stage, the Abilene native knows what it’s like to have all eyes on him. Which is a good thing, because he has the title role in Barton Community College’s upcoming musical "Li’l Abner," and with his larger than average stature and role, he will undoubtedly experience more than his fair share of the spotlight.

Wassenberg began his foray into musical performance when he was in second grade as a dog in a children’s theatre production of "Annie."

"I basically had to just bark," he said. "That was one of the worst times I’ve ever had in my life, but for some reason after that, I was hooked, and I’ve been in at least one musical every year since then."

Similar to his casting as Li’l Abner, Wassenberg said he’s generally been cast in roles that lend themselves to his vertically impressive stature.

"I’m type-cast a lot," he said. "I’ve been cast as Abe Lincoln as well as Li’l Jon from Robin Hood."

The young performer has also dabbled in improvisational comedy and is an avid trombonist. He plans to get his master’s degree in Musical Performance for trombone.

In addition to his musical endeavors, Wassenberg is enlisted in the National Guard. His Grandfather was a Chief Warrant Officer in Vietnam as a member of the National Guard and his father has been serving for 27 years.

"It’s just something my family has always been a part of, and I enjoy being a part of that legacy," he said. "When I was finally 17, I couldn’t sign the papers fast enough."

The young actor said the National Guard helped him overcome some minor stage fright issues, while his dealings in theatre have helped him with some elements of shyness in his personality.

"In basic training I was a platoon guide leader at one point so I was thrown in front of everybody and everybody looked to me for leadership, and I think that has really helped me in preparing for Li’l Abner," he said. "You can’t be shy and timid in basic training … especially if you’re one of the tallest guys there."

Wassenberg said he is hoping to continue pursuing his musical interests as well as his military career.

"My goal is to go active duty Army and volunteer for deployment after I graduate," He said. "I would like to be stationed in Ft. Riley and be close to family, raise a family and become a part of the Army for the rest of my life but still continue to do community theatre shows."

The upcoming performance is something Wassenberg thinks the community should take advantage of.

"It’s different than a movie," he said. "Everyone should see a musical at least once or twice in their life because it’s different to actually see the storyline take place in front of you instead of watching it on a screen."

The musical will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 9 and 10, and there will be a 2 p.m. matinee on March 11 in the Fine Arts Auditorium.

Tickets are available online. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to and click on the "Li’l Abner" link. Tickets are $8-10 . Patrons who would like to purchase tickets but do not have Internet access may call Deb Reed at (620) 792-9391. Reserve seating only.