"Oliver!" — based on Charles Dickens' stellar novel "Oliver Twist" — is comprised of 30-plus performers and is steeped in upbeat tunes and Broadway-styled dance numbers. The show is directed by Mary Spacht, of Middletown, and features lyrics, script and music penned by Lionel Bart.
In need of a family
Clad in decrepit shoes, stained clothing and brown fingernails, little Oliver is merely another orphan to Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney, his tyrant caretakers. Upon asking for another bowl of gruel to silence his howling belly, his infuriated caretakers sell the half-starved lad to undertaker Mr. Sowerberry to become his apprentice.
In a turn of events, the boy finds himself in Fagin's lair; Fagin, a conniving old man, is a villain who fathers homeless boys and schools them on the art of pickpocketing. Desiring to be adopted by upright parents, Oliver must remain courageous if he wants to see a bright light at the end of his tunnel.
"He's an orphan child, in the end, looking for a family," said Spacht, 34, who then alluded to the universal idea that every person desires to feel loved. "I think 'Oliver!' is one of those shows everyone can relate to."
Jekyll and Hyde, times two
Fagin, played by Robert Welch, is arguably the most complex character in the show. In addition to being a charmer and dictator, Welch must also juggle other personalities, since the character is very three-dimensional.
"He knows pickpocketing is wrong, but he still expresses his warmth for the pickpockets, who do his bidding, even though he knows he doesn't want them to get hurt, beat up and locked up," said Welch, of Wilmington. "But he knows he's the only provider for food for his pickpockets. This is one of the examples of the gauntlet of emotions the character has to portray."
At his core, Welch believes Fagin has a good heart, even though it's covered in shadows. And while the old man's homeless henchmen don't have a large fan club, show-goers should remember that not everyone who does naughty things is a bad apple; truth be told, bad circumstances often force people to do unpleasant things.
"They probably didn't have a choice, and [now] are in this life of crime," he explained of Fagin's pickpockets. "And they're not killing people, they're picking pockets. It could be worse. But it's not."