"I tried out for a summer theater show," he said. "It was the production of 'A Chorus Line' and I was excited just to get the opportunity to be a part of that show. I loved the audition experience and I was hooked after that."
Whitener credits being "one of those church kids" for any vocal training he had early on. He did a bit of acting at Marshall University, but as an accounting major, said his studies had to take first priority. He's now a certified public accountant and works as the chief financial officer for the state Bureau of Public Health.
These days, Whitener gives a lot of time to the guild, both on stage and a little more behind the scenes as president of its board of directors.
He said he's learned to love all kinds of stage roles - he's not an actor who has to have the lead.
"In terms of auditioning, I think about if the show appeals to me - does it have a message," Whitener said. "But it doesn't necessarily
mean I have to have a lead. Some of the most enjoyable experiences I've had are being in the ensemble."
"I was an ensemble player in 'Pippin' in 1994 and that was still one of my favorite shows," he said. "I'm planning to try out for 'Les Mis' in the fall and I'm perfectly content with that. I think in community theater you have to have that balance of being a gracious performer and allow different people to experience being in lead roles."
Whitener has a special fondness for the guild's summer productions, which often attract high school and college students who are unavailable for roles in the fall and spring shows.
"It is a totally different energy," he said of the summer productions. "We have several new kids involved in this one and it is so encouraging to hear these kids say, 'I'm going to New York and L.A. to act.' I say, 'While you're young, do it.' "
One young actress in this production of "Chicago" holds a special place in Whitener's heart. His niece, Allison Whitener, a sophomore at Concord University, plays the role of the Hungarian murderess, Hunyak.
"This is her second show - she did 'Legally Blonde' last summer," he said. "It's been so much fun. I take her home after rehearsals and we get some one-on-one time. You don't get a lot of moments like that when they are away at college."
Contact writer Monica Orosz at mon...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.