Just how much can one little boy endure?
Quite a bit, it would seem, if he’s anything like Oliver Twist, who is the subject of “Oliver!” a musical being staged by the Pennsylvania Theatre of Performing Arts this weekend and next.
“Oliver!” tells the story of young Twist, an orphaned boy who seems to just keep running into groups of people who are, well, not exactly the nicest.
“He’s a decent kid, he just keeps meeting these people that don’t put him in the best situations,” Angel Berlane Mulcahy, the show’s director, said.
Oliver begins as a starving workhouse boy who is then sold to funeral directors Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (Adam Randis and Robin Green), the custody of which he eventually escapes, only to run into the Artful Dodger (Joseph Maguschak), who introduces Oliver to Fagin (Robert Rushalk), who runs a band of pickpockets. Along the way, he also befriends Nancy (Aleaha Jones) and Bill Sykes (Zachary Sessock), members of the gang who are in the throes of an abusive relationship.
Though much of the plot is on the serious side, peppered with comedic moments, Berlane Mulcahy said there’s much positivity to be taken from the story.
“It is sad because you’re watching this boy go through all these things and, for me, when I’m watching, it’s tough because you keep thinking, ‘Why would someone ever do this to that person?’” she said. “I think it’s about being tough-skinned, though. You see Oliver go through all this and you realize that no matter what you’re going through in life, good or bad, we always take something from it. Not to give too much away, but for Oliver there are better days, and it turns out pretty well for him, and I think this just shows that you have to go through those parts in life in order to get to that great moment.”
The characteristic fight that Oliver possesses is something that Berlane Mulcahy saw in Liam Huff, the 11-year-old actor that snagged the leading role.
“When he came in to audition, I basically knew right away that he was it,” the director said. “He was so prepared. I asked him to come back for another audition, to learn one of Oliver’s songs, and he sang ‘Where is Love?’ He totally had it. You can see the difference when someone really fights for it, and that’s what I saw, and that’s what Oliver does.”
Berlane Mulcahy was also very confident in her choice for Nancy, especially when Jones performed one of the director’s favorite numbers from the production, “As Long as He Needs Me.”
“It’s an interesting song that Nancy sings about Bill,” Berlane Mulcahy said, “about this woman who is physically abused by this man, but she stays with him as long as he needs her.
“When [Jones] sang that, it brought me to tears; it gave me chills. She’s a fabulous Nancy.”
The music of “Oliver!” is very noteworthy, including up-tempo numbers like “Oom-Pah-Pah” and the more recognizable “Consider Yourself.”
The show is based on Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist” and became a British musical, with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. It premiered in the West End in 1960 and began a Broadway run in 1963. Davy Jones, who would later gain fame as a member of musical super group The Monkees, played the part of the Artful Dodger in the 1963 production and was nominated for a Tony Award. It was made into a musical film in 1968.