Consider yourself part of the family at Draper Historic Theatre’s ‘Oliver!’
Jul 25, 2019 11:07AM
By Katherine Weinstein
The Artful Dodger (Jagger Weichers), Fagin (Don Smith) and Oliver Twist (Nikos Mizantidis) share a moment in the Draper Historic Theatre production of “Oliver!” (Photo courtesy The Wandering Photo Co/Bailey Loveless)
By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]
The 1960 British musical “Oliver!” tells a pretty grim story — the young orphan Oliver Twist suffers in a Victorian-era workhouse, is sold into servitude, falls in with a group of thieving pickpockets and gets kidnapped. Still, the show became an international favorite for its unforgettable characters and winning songs. “There’s actually a lot of love, light and compassion in this show,” said director Casey Dean of the upcoming production at Draper Historic Theatre. “We are emphasizing the relationships between the characters.”
Based on the novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, “Oliver!” was an immensely popular musical on both sides of the Atlantic from the beginning and was made into an award-winning movie in 1968. Many of the songs, such as “Consider Yourself,” “Where Is Love?” and “As Long As He Needs Me” became pop standards.
Still, “Oliver!” is not produced very often in Utah, perhaps because of its darker plot. For the director and cast at Draper Historic Theatre, this is one more reason for local audiences to see it. “Not many theaters do ‘Oliver!’ and it’s a great show,” said Roman Southwick, one of two actors who play the clever pickpocket, the Artful Dodger.
As in many Draper Historic Theatre productions, “Oliver!” is double-cast. Both of the young actors who play Dodger, Roman Southwick and Jagger Weichers, as well as 10-year-old Nikos Mizantidis, who plays Oliver, are performing at DHT for the first time. All three bring years of experience in singing and performing to their respective roles.
Mizantidis has taken private voice lessons for three years. “My music teacher really encouraged me to audition,” he said. “Oliver!” will be his very first show.
Weichers, soon to be a ninth grader at Alta High School, has performed in several theater companies around the valley and has sung in choral groups such as One Voice Children’s Choir and Up with Kids. Southwick, who will be starting eighth grade at American Preparatory Academy, has appeared in local theater for eight years and performed at the Stadium of Fire show as part of the Rocky Mountain Dance Crew.
Each actor has put a lot of thought into their characters and how they relate to each other. “I think of Dodger as my teacher because he’s teaching me to pick pockets!” said Mizantidis.
“Dodger is kind of like a teacher to Oliver. Oliver is an innocent boy and Dodger is this confident, arrogant person who tells him what to do and shows him the ropes,” said Southwick.
“At first Dodger sees Oliver as a ‘mark,’” Weichers added. “He’s kind of his friend, but not.”
Dean explained that while the plot of the show revolves around Oliver, “Nancy is the heart. She drives the story of bringing compassion and love to this orphan boy.”
In the musical, Nancy is the long-suffering girlfriend of Bill Sykes, a violent criminal who is an associate of Fagin, the leader of the pickpockets who profits from the boys’ thievery.
Kate Lyn Child, who plays Nancy, said of the character, “I think there is a lot of depth to her. She’s not just a victim of abuse but is a protector for Oliver. She is a three-dimensional character.”
“I love the relationship between Nancy and Dodger,” said Child. “They tease each other but have each other’s backs. I love the song ‘I’d Do Anything.’ I love those tender moments.”
Fagin, the leader of the pickpockets, is also revealed to be more than just a one-dimensional “bad guy” in “Oliver!” Don Smith, who worked as a music pastor around the country for 17 years, is returning to the DHT stage in the role of Fagin. “He’s a bad guy, absolutely mercenary, but he cares about the kids. He gives them a family and a place to belong,” said Smith. His biggest challenge with the role of Fagin is playing his relationship with the evil Bill Sykes. “That’s when things get dark,” he said.
Smith summed up the plot of “Oliver!” as being about “finding a place to belong.” In the end, Oliver finds his true home and Fagin is left looking for a new place to belong. “For Fagin, the show ends with a question mark. Can he change?”
“It’s a beautiful show — tender, hopeful and beautiful but also dramatic. Audiences will experience a whole roller coaster of emotions,” said understudy and ensemble member Lydia Vance.
“Oliver!”, will be presented at Draper Historic Theatre on August 2, 3, 5, 10, 12, 16, 17, 19, 23, 24 and 26 at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on the 17th. Draper Historic Theatre is located at 12366 South 900 East in Draper. For more information, call 801-572-4144 or visit www.drapertheatre.org.