After the regional premier of “The Last Ship” and the American classic “The Glass Menagerie,” Pioneer Theatre Company is taking on a tale of Dickensian London. Coming up next to the stage is the musical classic “Oliver!”
“Oliver!” originally premiered on Broadway in 1963 and has been revived and performed numerous times since. The story, which comes from the novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, follows the young orphan boy Oliver in nineteenth century London. After escaping from the workhouse where he endured poor treatment, Oliver befriends the Artful Dodger, a young pickpocket. Dodger takes Oliver back to meet Fagin, a former criminal who has now become too old to pick pockets and instead teaches young boys how to thieve for him. Oliver is also introduced to Nancy, a member of Fagin’s gang and live-in wife of the infamous Bill Sikes. Soon after his induction into Fagin’s gang, Oliver’s life takes a turn for the criminal, as he begins his work in the streets as a pickpocket.
Pioneer’s production includes a sizable cast of both Equity actors and local talent, as well as thirteen child actors who will join the stage. Many of the principle actors may be familiar to Pioneer audiences, including Howard Kaye and Natalie Hill, who play Bill Sykes and Nancy respectively, and Christian Labertew, who plays The Artful Dodger. The cast also includes Broadway alums Bill Nolte as Fagin, alongside Kevin Ligon and Linda Griffin as Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney respectively. The production is directed and choreographed by Karen Azenberg, the artistic director at Pioneer. This is Azenberg’s fifth year as artistic director, and the second show this season she has directed–following “The Last Ship” earlier this year.
Mandy McDonell, a senior in the MTP program at the U, is performing in the ensemble in the role of Charlotte. Even though many people have heard of “Oliver!,” McDonell hopes this particular production can bring something new. “When kids come to see the show and see people their own age on stage, I’m hoping we will inspire a new generation to love and appreciate theatre.” McDonell also described the challenge of working on the set. “There are two turntables in our production and one of them has a two story set on it. Although we had the whole thing taped out in the rehearsal room, there’s nothing like actually being on the turn tables.” She’s also excited for audiences to see the level of talent of the local kids in the production. “Audiences will see how much the arts are fostered in youth here in their own backyard,” she said. “The kids are in the majority of the show and they are doing an amazing job!” Overall, she hopes that the production can be a positive experience for audiences to engage in. “I hope they can take these few hours to escape from everything going on in our world right now and enjoy being taken on Oliver’s journey with us.”
Tickets are available at the Pioneer Theatre Company box office, or online at www.pioneertheatrecompany.org. Students can purchase tickets for half price for Monday through Thursday night performances, and have the opportunity to buy rush tickets one hour before curtain, available at $5 each.
“Oliver!” opens Dec. 2 and runs through Dec. 17 for the holiday season.