It’s a classic Dickensian story of poverty and comedy.
“It was time to get the next generation of child actors on stage and ‘Oliver!’ is one of the most beloved musicals featuring children actors and singers,” said Director Deborah Sparks. “The adult parts are great character parts, and currently on Orcas, we have a super population of adult character actors who can sing.”
“Oliver!” music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart, will run May 9 to 11 and 16 to 18 at 7:30 p.m on the main stage. Tickets are $18, $11 for students and $2 off for Orcas Center members; visit www.orcascenter.org or call 376-2281.
“Oliver!” is a British musical based on the novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens. It had a long, successful Broadway run. It was made into a film in 1968 and since then there have been numerous revivals.
“I chose to make ‘Oliver!’ A small spectacle with over the top costumes and leaning slightly toward vaudeville staging,” Sparks said. “Silent movies have been an influence also. The important part in my vision is that the cast and audience have fun ... The orchestra is definitely the lead in a our musical. Lionel Bart wrote music that will be alive in our hearts for many generations to come.”
Oliver Twist is a young orphan who gets caught in the dark underworld of 1800s England. Throughout the play, he finds that he’s not just a street urchin but a boy with a very valuable family secret. The production walks the line between dark themes of poverty and domestic violence and light-hearted, humorous chorus numbers.
Oliver, played by Mason Scoggin, meets a series of characters, including the street-wise Artful Dodger played by Matthew Laslo-White, the eccentric Fagin portrayed by Robert Hall, Mr. Bumble played by Joe Babcock, the terrifying Bill Sykes brought to life by Conrad Wrobel and the tough but kind Nancy played by Cali Bagby. The rest of the cast features kids and adults who are willing to have a good time on stage.
“It’s an amazing cast,” said Laslo-White, whose mom Donna is also in the play. “Working with Mason and Cali is a lot of fun. Everyone is great.”
Sparks says finding the right Oliver was the main challenge. When Scoggin auditioned she saw the “quality of innocence a sweet singing voice and a potentially little rascal.”
Sparks said Laslo-White, who is a professional magician, uses his stage charm and confidence to pull off the wily Dodger.
“I was happy to cast Robert Hall as Fagin ... he has a beautiful singing voice, is a very talented character actor and brings a playfulness to his role which helps the darker scenes lighten up,” she said.
Sparks noted Bagby and Wrobel have chemistry between them that makes the love/hate dynamic work well.
“I am playing a villain who is so low he threatens to kill women and children,” Wrobel said. “I have to be both violent and somewhat comical – it’s a kids’ play after all. This character is kind of a burden. The fear I am creating is real and affects your place in the community. But at the same time, it’s a terrible lot of fun. I get to be loud and despicable and I don’t have to shave!”
Hall is playing a less wicked character and has been having a blast, particularly with the kids, an experience he says is “like herding cats.”
“Everyone knows who Fagin is, so it’s a matter of flushing it out and having fun with it,” Hall said. “He is a robber who trains kids to steal for him. He’s found a surreptitious way to survive.”
Hall commends Sparks for her vision with the production and thinks the community is going to enjoy what they see on the stage.
“Sparks has added some really interesting touches to it. It’s hard to beat her brand of creativity,” he said.
For Bagby, “Oliver!” is her first theatre performance on Orcas Island.
“I love that Sparks has given my character room to show her own strength and dignity,” she said. “Nancy gives an unflinching look at the cage domestic violence creates and how timeless these issues are. What is so great about the musical is that it is fun, but it also gives us characters that are relatable – even today.”