Seacoast Rep to Stage OLIVER! This Holiday Season

By: Oct. 29, 2015
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The Seacoast Repertory Theatre is departing from convention this holiday season. Like many theater companies it will be staging a work by Charles Dickens. But instead of the time-honored A Christmas Carol, it will be giving the holidays an Oliver! twist.

Oliver!, the musical based on Dickens' novel about a London orphan boy's hard life, is to open November 13 at the Seacoast Rep in Portsmouth. A "steampunk" set and costumes designed by the team behind the Rep's hit summer production of Avenue Q will give the show a modern fantasy feel that nonetheless keeps it squarely in Industrial Revolution London.

Oliver! may lack the holiday setting that makes "A Christmas Carol" a theater mainstay. The Seacoast has offered "A Christmas Carol" several times in the past. But the messages in Oliver! of hope and faith amid bleakness give it a timely holiday theme, said director Miles Burns.

"Those kind of eerie stories about perseverance and trust in God and love, is what gives it a holiday appeal," Burns said. "It is definitely a heart-warming tale with a lot of realism in it, a lot of gritty, human things."

The uplift in Oliver! comes in part from the songs, many of which have endured as popular favorites since the Lionel Bart musical's 1960 debut. These include "Food, Glorious Food," "Consider Yourself," "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two," and "Who Will Buy?"

Burns is a Seacoast Rep veteran who has written and directed many shows for its youth program. He is making his main-stage directing debut with Oliver!

In considering how to stage the musical, Burns went back to the original novel, "Oliver Twist," and saw an opportunity to highlight irony in the socially oppressive world that Dickens portrayed.

"The novel is written really sarcastically - a lot of the show is really funny, too. I've been belly laughing in our rehearsals," Burns said. "I think that is something that's missed in a lot of productions of 'Oliver!'

Among the stars in Oliver! Portsmouth native and Broadway touring veteran Merrill Peiffer will be returning to the Rep after taking the Seacoast spotlight as a country music legend earlier this year in A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline.

The child roles will be played by a rotating cast, and many will be playing instruments on stage during the songs. "That just organically happened, they came and auditioned and knew how to play," Burns said.

Ben Hart and Brandon James designed the production's hipster "steampunk" look, of 19th Century technology in a science-fiction fantasy world. The design, Burns said, "is something that makes sense, if you question it. It helps in telling the story - anything that's cold and hard and not feeling."

The same pair had designed and made the dozens of puppets that starred in Avenue Q, the Seacoast Rep's summer hit which they also co-directed. The two changed their plans to leave town after that show and offered to work on Oliver! They are now hard at work on the set and costumes.

"The Avenue Q puppets come alive at night, and they build the set," Burns joked.

There was plenty of interest in helping Burns and the Rep bring Oliver! to the stage.

"We had about 50-60 people audition for 'Oliver!,' so that's pretty awesome," Burns said. "I think I've got good, smart things to say about the story, and I think that everybody's on board with trying to tell it in the way that would work the best. It feels like a really good team right now."

Oliver! runs November 13 through December 20 with a special preview performance on November 12th. Show times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are available through the Seacoast Rep Box Office, or online at www.seacoastrep.org. For student discounts, call the box office at 603-433-4472. Oliver! is proudly presented by Optima Bank & Trust. The 2015 Seacoast Repertory Theatre's Season is sponsored in part by Bondgarden Farms, New Hampshire Public Television, and Portsmouth Public Media.

Photo Credit: Kathleen Cavalaro



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