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Sam Poon and Kevin Gray Star as Oliver Twist and London Child-Crime Boss Fagin in “Oliver!” at NCT

The Artful Dodger (Nicholas Kraft) befriends Oliver Twist (Sam Poon) (Curtis Brown Photography)

The Artful Dodger (Nicholas Kraft) befriends Oliver Twist (Sam Poon) (Curtis Brown Photography)

 

The North Carolina Theatre will present Oliver!, the 1960 West End and 1963 Broadway hit musical with music, lyrics, and book by Lionel Bart (1930-99), on July 17-22 in Raleigh Memorial Auditoriumin the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC. A rollicking stage adaptation of the 1838 novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1812-70), Oliver! premiered on June 30, 1960 at the New Theatre in London, where it ran for 2,618 performances; and the musical crossed the Atlantic and made its Broadway debut on Jan. 6, 1963 at the Imperial Theatre, where it played 774 performances.

The 1968 motion-picture version of Oliver!, directed by Carol Reed from a screenplay by Vernon Harris, starred Mark Lester as orphan by and workhouse escapee Oliver, Ron Moody as London crime boss Fagin, Jack Wild as the pickpocket The Artful Dodger, Shani Wallis as Oliver’s friend Nancy, and Oliver Reed as Nancy’s brutal boyfriend Bill Sikes. The musical film received a dozen 1968 Academy Award® nominations, and won six Oscars®, including the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and a Special Academy Award for Choreography (Onna White).

“I first saw the movie when it was released in 1968,” recalls NCT guest director and choreographer Richard Stafford. “I went with my mother. We used to love seeing all the movie musicals.”

He adds, “I choreographed the show in 1988 at the Hirschfeld Theatre in Miami. It starred [ex-Monkee] Davey Jones as Fagin. I have since directed and choreographed the show twice — at Pittsburgh CLO and Sacramento Music Circus.”

Stafford says, “Charles Dickens’ story of the unloved orphan boy’s journey to the grandfather he never knew he had is magnificent. I wanted to direct it, because I love the darkness versus light.”

When the curtain rises on Oliver!, says Richard Stafford, “Oliver (Sam Poon), a workhouse boy in England circa 1838 after the temerity is wanting and asking for more food, is expelled from the workhouse by [the pompous beadle] Mr. Bumble (Tim Caudle) and Widow Corney (Sarah Knapp) and sold to a cruel undertaker and his wife.

“He escapes, finds his way to London and is ‘adopted’ into a gang of petty thieving children who are looked after by Fagin (Kevin Gray) — a Svengali-type figure who teaches them to pickpocket and thieve for him. Among his circle are The Artful Dodger (Nicholas Kraft), Bill Sykes (Stephen Tewksbury), Nancy (Heather Patterson King), and Bet (Alexis van Venrooy).

WARNING: SPOILERS

“On his first day on the streets with Dodger, Oliver — wrongfully thought to have thieved from Mr. Brownlow (Danny Norris) — is captured,” notes Stafford. “But he is injured during the capture, and he is taken in by the kindly and wealthy Mr. Brownlow — an allowance [made] by the courts — and nursed back to health. He thrives [at Mr. Brownlow's], having finally found kindliness.”

Stafford says, “Meanwhile, Fagin and Bill Sykes, who are concerned that Oliver will lead the authorities to their den, track him down and kidnap him back to their thieves kitchen.”

“Nancy, seeing in Oliver the opportunities she never had, meets with Mr. Brownlow to plan a way to return Oliver to him,” Stafford explains. “During the prearranged meeting on London Bridge, Nancy and Oliver are ambushed by Bill Sykes. Nancy and Sykes are killed in the melee, Oliver is returned to Mr. Brownlow, who it turns out is actually Oliver’s grandfather; and Fagin and Dodger, their den demolished, look for other ‘opportunities.’”

END OF SPOILERS

In addition to guest director and choreographer Richard Stafford, the North Carolina Theatre creative team for Oliver! includes producer Carolee Baxter; associate director/choreographer Jonathan Stahl; musical director Edward G. Robinson; associate music director Andre Cerullo; technical director Bill Yates, Jr.; lighting designer John Bartenstein; costumer Ann M. Bruskiewitz; hair/wig/makeup designer Patricia DelSordo; properties managers Aline Johnson and George Burrows; sound designer Eric Alexander Collins; sound designer/systems Brian L. Hunt; and stage manager Renee Rimland.

The show’s set was originally designed and built by the Pittsburgh CLO’s Construction Center for the Arts; and Costume World Theatrical of Deerfield Beach, FL provided most of the musical’s Victorian costumes.

Director/choreographer Richard Stafford notes, “The lighting by John Bartenstein is always supportive, evocative of the time and place, and very, very beautiful. As we’re dealing with London in the middle 19th century, gas light, candle light, and dim sunlight are the sources.”

He adds, “The costumes by Annie Bruskiewitz are designed with a true period feel, but also a sense of color. The danger in the Oliver! is to highlight the grimness of the period. I find it important to let the audience understand that the grimness of a life may not necessarily lead to grimness of apparel.”

Stafford says, “Movement from scene to scene is very challenging on this expansive set for both director and cast. The set is a large, multileveled unit which rotates. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is an epic tale which has been condensed and musicalized in the creation of Oliver! the musical. One of the challenges for the director is to find let the epic tell its tale while keeping it on the human level.”

SECOND OPINION: July 16th Raleigh, NC WRAL-TV interview with Kevin Gray: http://www.wral.com/entertainment/video/11317592/#/vid11317592.

The North Carolina Theatre will presents OLIVER! at 7:30 p.m. July 17-20 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. July 21 and 22 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $22.25-$84.75 (including fees).

BOX OFFICE:

NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/1587720.

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 5204, or http://nctheatre.com/tickets/group-sales.

SHOW: http://nctheatre.com/shows/oliver.

VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pt5xa6jK5y8&feature=player_embedded.

SEASON: http://nctheatre.com/2012-shows.

PRESENTER: http://nctheatre.com/.

BLOG: http://nctheatre.com/stage-notes.

VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/venue/memorial-auditorium.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/parking.

NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. Saturday, July 21st, performance.

OTHER LINKS:

The Novel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Twist (Wikipedia).

Charles Dickens:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens (Wikipedia).

The Musical: http://oliverthemusical.com/ (Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. official website for the 2008 U.K. revival and tour), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver! (Wikipedia), http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com/shows_o/oliver.htm (The Guide to Musical Theatre), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=6726 (Internet Broadway Database).

Lionel Bart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lionel_Bart (Wikipedia).

The Film: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/85532/Oliver-/ (TCM Movie Database), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver!_(film) (Wikipedia), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063385/ (Internet Movie Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.


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