The dirty streets of London crawl with vermin and their lousy human counterparts. Victorian England is a great place to get rich, a terrible place to be poor and the perfect place for Charles Dickens’ imagination to run wild with an orphan in search of hope.
Oliver! The Musical is more than memorable songs like “Food, Glorious Food” and “Consider Yourself.” It is a dark, Dickensian story. A successful production takes skill, bravery and a heap of children.
Fortunately, director Evynne Hollens brings chutzpa to the table along with her veteran abilities as an actor and singer — for instance, the chutzpa to direct a 60-person cast for her first real musical; to call up Richard Leebrick out of the blue and convince him to play the villainous Fagin; to move the production from Springfield’s snug Wildish Theater to the big auditorium at Sheldon High School, because she knows she can fill the seats.
Just after the set was finished and before the costumes were passed out, I caught up with Hollens to get her take on directing a Dickens classic.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” she says. To be sure, Hollens is no stranger to Rose Children’s Theatre; she recalls playing “the rear end of Daisy the tap-dancing cow,” and taking a lead role in The King and I. Hollens has spent a lot of time on that stage.
“I wanted to direct Oliver,” she says firmly. When the RCT board balked, she didn’t back down. I asked about her passion for the show, and she explains that, along with a really great musical, “Dickens provides us with all these incredible characters.”
“It’s a really stellar cast,” Hollens says of the kids and adults she’s assembled for the production. Familiar local talents crowd the stage, including Erica Jean, Chaz King, Dance Theater of Oregon’s Pamela and Marc Siegel as well as their daughter, 13-year-old Kyra, who’s just returned from Broadway. The cast is composed predominantly of children, with the title role played by Evan Hopper-Moore.
Throw in costume design by the miracle-working Dody Hansen and set design by Skip Hubbard, and you have 50 budding young actors supported in their production by some wonderful adult help.
“This promises to be more than your typical children’s theater,” Hollens says. “It’s going to be amazing.”
Oliver runs 7pm Friday & Saturday, Feb. 3-11 and 2pm Sunday, Feb. 5 & 12 at Sheldon High School Theater, 2455 Willakenzie Rd.; info at www.therct.com or 431-0444.