You've Got To Pick An Orphan Or Two ...

By: Jeff Genung

You've got to pick an orphan or two ...

If you want to pack a house, pick a show with an abundance of kiddie roles. Each child is good for probably 10 adult tickets. If you want a full house, make said kids orphans (I’m looking at you, Annie). Works every time.

That should make finding a seat for this weekend’s production of “Oliver” at Norwich High School a difficult task, but I assure you it’s well worth the effort. Being the cold-hearted cynic that I am, it takes a lot more than a group of parentless ragamuffins to get me to come to a show. Having seen “Oliver” in dress rehearsal Wednesday night, it’s the talent that makes me say, “Please sir, can I have some more?”

I made a lot in my story in yesterday’s Evening Sun about the “multi-generational” aspect of staging “Oliver” – in that while all the roles are played by kids, they’re not necessarily high school kids. It’s a risk that I’m sure made director Mark Sands’ hair even grayer than mine, but it certainly pays off here. Like a discerning sports coach grooming kids from peewee to jayvee, Sands is cultivating his future high school stars from middle school.

One such future star is pretty obvious – sixth grader Tyler Roberts plays the title role of everyone’s favorite and much-coveted orphan. I interviewed him last week, and he’s a brave little boy, more than holding his own against his much “older” co-stars. He’s working on building quite the stage presence, and his singing chops show through in the number, “Where is Love?” Little Oliver is surrounded by a gaggle of orphans and pickpockets played by his middle school classmates, many of them acting their little hearts out.

It occurred to me after I wrote yesterday’s preview article that I forgot to tell the uninitiated what “Oliver” was all about. In a Dickens nutshell, little orphan Oliver gets booted out of the parish workhouse for having the audacity to ask for more gruel, and is subsequently sold into white slavery before turning to a life of crime. But then he gets really lucky and finds out he was rich all along. Close enough.

Running the parish poorhouse are the bombastic Mr. Bumble (Galen Morehead) and his consort, Widow Corney (Erin McMahon). These two make one of a pair of comedy relief couples in “Oliver” and do so with gusto. Morehead is appropriately blustery, and McMahon shines (and screams) in “I Shall Scream.” I’ve enjoyed this girl on the Tornado stage before, and I dare say she’s Norwich’s own Marissa Jaret Winokur. During Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal, Galen and Erin were forced to awkwardly draw out the end of that number while Oliver dealt with a wardrobe malfunction backstage. They call it “vamping” in the biz, and these two deserved the applause they got for grace under pressure.

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