AEDC team members like the limelight, take part in local theater production of “Oliver!”

  • Published
  • By Deidre Moon
  • AEDC Public Affairs

While most people head home once their workday ends, Arnold Engineering Development Complex team members J.D. Dill and Frank Wonder instead leave Arnold Air Force Base and take to the stage to work on their latest roles, playing fictional characters in a local theater production.

Both have parts in the Millennium Repertory Company’s adaptation of Lionel Bart’s musical “Oliver!” at the Manchester Arts Center showing the last two weekends in January. The musical is based on the classic novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens.

Dill, chief of Emergency Management for AEDC, grew up in Florida and started participating in school theater in sixth grade.

“My first part was as the prince in ‘Cindy,’ a modern take on ‘Cinderella,’ and then I played Charlie in ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,’” he said.

Though he doesn’t remember it, Dill said his mom claims he started singing at the early age of 3.

“I am still big on singing in the church choir, I always have been,” he said.

Dill has appeared in more than 48 theater productions in the United States and Europe, and he toured the world with Air Force Entertainment’s “Tops in Blue” in 2000 as a vocalist. He has even won awards for his acting abilities, receiving “Best Actor in a Play” at the 2017 European Tournament of Plays Awards in Wiesbaden, Germany. 

Dill’s latest role is as Fagin in “Oliver!” He is looking forward to tackling the character.

“Fagin is a leader of a gang of young misfits that includes the Artful Dodger,” Dill said. “He is mean but can be sweet. He has two sides to him. He doesn’t really like violence but is not opposed to it, as long as it doesn’t affect him.”

Dill mentioned that Fagin has a lot of interactions with the musical’s main antagonist Bill Sikes, who is played by Wonder.

Wonder, flight chief of the arc heater facilities at Arnold, said as a kid in Chicago, he auditioned for and became part of a choir that performed in the area.

“So, I could sing, but I had never acted,” he said.

He became active in the Coffee County acting community 11 years ago, when his daughter moved back to the area.

“My daughter is the Coffee County Central High School music teacher and the first play I was in was actually ‘Oliver!’ when she directed it 11 years ago,” Wonder said. “I’ve since been in a lot of shows at the South Jackson Civic Center in Tullahoma. I have been Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and played Oliver Warbucks in ‘Annie.’”

Acting isn’t Wonder’s only outside activity, as he also serves as state president of The Gideons International. When asked how he juggles work and his hobbies, he mentioned it helps they take place in the evenings and on weekends.

“I say that the Lord will provide you enough time to do what he’s calling you to do,” Wonder said. “Acting is also a good counter to work stress. It’s a different kind of stress, more like playing sports.

“I’m able to meet a lot of people of all ages that I would not otherwise meet, like J.D. I may not have ever met him on base. Plus, playing characters is fun and you’re able to put your own personality into the different characters you play.”

Wonder added that whether or not people have acting and singing abilities, they could still find a role to play in local theater.

“The great thing about community theater is that it involves all ages and skillsets, because you can build sets, do costuming or run the tech booth and manage the lighting and sound,” he said. “Even in a musical, there are still characters that don’t have to sing. It’s a good way to be active in the community.

“Though we’re not professionals, people do pay to see the shows and we’re able to create a fantasy world for them and it’s a place they can forget about their problems for a while.”

Dill also encourages anyone looking for a hobby to try becoming a part of the local theater, especially youth.

“It’s a huge confidence builder to be able to stand up and talk and perform in front of people,” he said.

For those interested in seeing the musical, it is still possible to catch a viewing of “Oliver!” at the MAC located at 128 E. Main Street. It will be showing Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at or by calling 931-570-4489.