'Oliver!' speaks the truth about hunger and hope


"Oliver," which opens Friday at the Gainesville Community Playhouse, features, from left, Pete Roe as Bill Sykes, Alex Christophy as Oliver and Susan Christophy as Nancy.

JARRETT BAKER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

In "Oliver," which opens Friday at the Gainesville Community Playhouse, song and dance retell the Dickensian details of "Oliver Twist," Charles Dickens' classic novel.

Facts

"Oliver!"

  • What: Stage musical inspired by Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist."

  • When: Preview performance 8 p.m. tonight; opens Friday and runs through Nov. 18 and Nov. 29 through Dec. 16; times are 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.

  • Where: Vam York Theatre, 4039 NW 16th Blvd.

  • Tickets: $15 general admission; $5 tonight's preview

  • Information: 376-4949

  • Onstage, the street urchins who skip along the streets of 19th century London take theatergoers over the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

    And for the orphan Oliver, played on alternating nights by Alex Christophy and Quinan Loughe, bridging a life of hardship to one of fulfillment is still conceivable.

    The children sing "Food, Glorious Food" with euphonious gusto, but while energetic songs are the stuff of the uplifting musical, the hunger and want in their singing comes through.

    And Mr. Bumble, the orphanage church employee played by Estaban Elverez, treats the orphans with a cruelty that makes them grow up quickly.

    It's a classic story which, like the world, is not perfect at Christmastime.

    "It's not your regular happy Christmas show, but it speaks the truth to life because (not) everybody (has) a happy Christmas," says Rhonda Wilson, director of "Oliver."

    "It will hopefully make people think about those who don't have anything and reach out to them. In this world, you can't just keep taking, you also have to give."

    Wilson worked with the young actors to inspire the hunger the characters portray.

    "The idea for them is to pretend that they are hungry and also dream about something better and then get back to reality and gruel is all they're going to get that day," Wilson says. "It's about taking a step further to make the acting real to them. In each moment, they have to live through all the moments, so when they speak a line or sing a line, they live through the whole moment."

    Oliver is taken under the wing of the artful Dodger (Carolyn Lloyd), who introduces Oliver to the affectionate, albeit corrupt, care of Fagin, played by John Carmean.

    An undertaker, Fagin offers the children room and board in exchange for the takings rendered by each set of snappy pickpocketing hands.

    "Oliver's need to be a part of something or someone who loves him brings him to a home where this wonderful gentleman will take care of them," Wilson says. "The people who live in Fagin's den become his family. The kids need love and attention even if it means doing something that isn't good. Fagin has good and evil sides. He cares for them (enough to) make sure they have a place to live, but his life is about taking from people."

    Nancy (Susan Christophy) sings the haunting "As Long As He Needs Me" about her abusive lover Bill Sikes (Peter Roe), who she fears.

    "She grew up with Bill under Fagin's wing and he is the only life that she knows. In her warped mind, she feels like he loves her back and she steals for him and puts up with his violence," says Wilson. "Nancy loves Bill, but in the end, she is willing to betray Bill to help Oliver get back to his family."

    The concept of escapism echoes throughout the London scape. For the children, it is through their imagination. And for Nancy, it is death.

    "Life is not always a happy ending. Some people make it and some people don't," Wilson says. "Nancy's saving grace was her death - the only way out of her life of hardship - and she sacrifices herself to save Oliver," Wilson says.

    The play shows that hope is a realistic thing to have.

    "There's a hope in Oliver's need to feel love," Wilson says. "He is saved and finds a family, but all those boys and girls aren't. There's hope even though things don't always end up as they should. You can't save everybody but you can hopefully save some."

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