The first scene of Robert Jones Junior Theatre’s “Oliver!” depicts 19th century orphans lining up at the Workhouse dining hall singing the wistful “Food Glorious Food” as they take their bowls of gruel. Oliver dares to ask for seconds and is sentenced to labor at a funeral parlor. Refusing to tolerate abuse and insults aimed at his deceased mother, Oliver runs away to London. Before the end of the first act, Oliver joins up with Fagin’s gang, a pick-pocketing crime ring.
“What’s educational about the show is it’s introducing young people to a classic novel and a classic figure in literature by Charles Dickens,” says Kevin Cornelius, recreation supervisor for the Santa Clara City Parks and Recreation Department. “Charles Dickens is a famous author and this musical introduces people to his writing style. Oliver is an outsider who discovers his own identity and finds his home and goes on a wild adventure in the process. Although there are some dark themes in the show, the show is very light-hearted. We know young children would enjoy this.”
Quite remarkable about this production were the young cast members’ abilities to speak and sing in credible English accents.
“Kevin had a workshop that he did with characters who had lines,” says Michael Kennedy, 15, who plays the morally conflicted Fagin. “He gave us a booklet and CD and said we could practice with that. We learned how to change certain vowels to match the accent. My dialect was cockney and the rich people had more proper English accents.”
Adam Fallick, 10, plays the vulnerable Oliver. His portrayal of a child yearning for affection came through in his moving solo of “Where Is Love?”
“I’m really excited to do the show,” Fallick says. “I listened to the soundtrack a lot each day. To me, it wasn’t a challenge [to remember the lyrics] because I listened to the songs a lot and I had just two solos. I’ve been in three other stage productions. I was Flounder in The Little Mermaid and Jeremy Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This is my first time being the lead lead.”
Carley LaPlaca, 15, plays Nancy, an older member of Fagin’s gang who becomes Oliver’s savior.
“I had to figure out how to use my life experiences to figure out who Nancy was,” LaPlaca says. “I tried to think about times I was disappointed or upset while singing ‘As Long as He Needs Me.'”
“Oliver!” will be performed on Nov. 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. and on Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Community Recreation Center. Visit www.RJJT.org to purchase tickets.