Poverty, greed, the seething unmentionable sides of humanity — no, it’s not the latest salacious Hollywood headline — it’s the delicious complexity layered into the adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist and it’s coming to Oakdale’s stage, Aug. 19-Sept.3.
Tickets are available for purchase for $13 each at Oak Valley Jewelers.
“Oliver!” is the story of a young orphan in 19th century London, written by Lionel Bart, based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. After breaking the cardinal rule of asking for more food, Oliver is forced to leave the workhouse orphanage he grew up in and begins his search for a true home and family. He meets a boy known as The Artful Dodger and finds lodging with a group of young pickpockets under the tutelage of Fagin, a life-long thief. They teach Oliver the art and fun of making a living on the streets as they sing “Pick A Pocket,” and he is introduced to Nancy, a local tavern-maid with a heart of gold, and Bill, a villainous thief. Oliver’s inexperience as a pickpocket changes his course yet again, and his adventures continue as Nancy tries to help him, Bill tries to stop him, and Fagin tries to simply make a profit. “Oliver!” includes some of the most beautiful and recognizable songs of musical history, including: “Consider Yourself,” “Who Will Buy?,” “As Long as He Needs Me,” and “Where is Love.” The movie version won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967.
Directed by Jenni Abbott and produced by Anastasia Sepulveda, the musical is the second summer production put on by the Oakdale Community Theatre and will run three consecutive weekends on Friday and Saturday, but no Sunday performances this time around.
The same local theater group brought “Annie” to life with an ensemble cast of more than 50 people last year, this time the group decided to tackle something with even bigger demands and more cast members.
But first, a director was needed to take the lead and Abbott, enamored with the Dickens classic, was a natural choice for the Oakdale Community Theatre steering committee.
“‘South Pacific’ was in the running but the director has to pick something they feel passionate about,” Abbott said. “And I absolutely love this play.”
Workshops were held prior to auditions to give people a chance to feel out the audition process, which was helpful in easing some performance jitters for some community members who hadn’t taken the stage for a long time — or ever.
And it worked. One hundred-twenty people showed up to audition, which only cemented Abbott’s belief that there would be community interest in the Dickens classic, and all but five cast members are from Oakdale.
“Oh yes, we have a lot of first timers,” Abbott said, dispelling the notion that only hard-core thespians responded to the call for auditions. “And a few community members who might surprise you with their talent.”
Sepulveda agreed, saying, “We have a lot of people taking the stage for the first time. Entire families are in the show. It’s fun to see all the new friendships being made.”
With an 82-member ensemble, the project was admittedly daunting but the excitement of putting it together pushed past any hint of trepidation.
“Our biggest worry was — would we be able to get 25 boys to sing and dance? With ‘Annie’ we knew we wouldn’t have a problem finding girls for the cast but generally, boys don’t want to sing and dance in front of an audience but we found what we needed and they’re great. We have boys ranging in age from 5 to 16,” Abbott said. “And we’re thrilled with our principal leads.”
The 80-plus cast members have three costume changes each, so one of the hardest jobs in the pre-production phase has to be that of the costume designer, Jennifer Kerr.
“The sheer volume of costumes needed is amazing,” Abbott said. “There are a lot of people sewing and gathering out there. The community has really come together to make this happen.”
And while the sewing of a fleet of costumes continues, the rest of the production moves forward with their individual teams from choreography to set building. It’s a well-oiled machine operating within an environment of pure chaos but so far, it’s working like a dream — minus a few headache-inducing scheduling dilemmas.
“Collaborating the schedules is the hardest thing when you have a cast this big,” Sepulveda admitted. “It’s hard to get everyone there when we need them.”
Rehearsals started July 1 and since then, it’s been Oliver — nearly 24-7 for the cast and crew.
“We rehearse six days a week. It’s a huge commitment but everyone is so excited and making it happen,” Sepulveda said.
Abbott and Sepulveda admitted to a few 2 a.m. meetings, late night phone calls and logging thousands of hours, while still managing to function in their regular daily lives, but the consummate nature of the production has created some interesting side effects, the two shared.
“I dream about ‘Oliver!’,” Sepulveda said.
“I’ve woken up with ‘Oliver’ choreography in my head,” Abbott added.
But they know the late hours and long days will culminate in something special because they see it happening right before their eyes as opening night draws ever closer.
“The collaboration has been really great,” Abbott said. “It’s really coming together and there are scenes that bring tears to your eyes.”
The talent in Oakdale, Abbott said, is a real boon to the community and the theater company.
“We want to train the audiences and performers expectations on how a theater production is produced. We want professional level productions but we want to keep it feeling like a community,” Abbott said.
The overwhelming success of last year’s musical production was proof that the community was ready for this kind of entertainment and the Oakdale Community Theatre group was more than ready to oblige.
“Everybody has lives and gives what they can and it’s really cool to see everything coming together like it is,” Abbott said. “I think the community is going to be impressed with the production. What’s most rewarding is seeing someone not quite sure they could do it, and seeing them blossom.”
The theater group is committed to one production a year at the least, but may include a smaller spring production if the right project was presented.
“We know the summer productions are a definite,” Abbott said. “And we’re even looking at more than musicals.”
The Oakdale Community Theatre group has a website at www.oakdalecommunitytheatre.com and a Facebook fan page. If you “like” the Facebook page you’ll automatically receive updates on future productions and alerts.
For more information, call Anastasia Sepulveda at 484-9460.