By Goldie Gold
Since its London premiere in 1960, “Oliver,” the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel Oliver Twist, has been a beloved cultural staple. For fifty years we have put on fake British accents, and imitated the moppy-haired orphaned boy’s hungry pleas of “Please, Sir. May I have some more?”
After years of performing their musicals in the college gymnasium, the Assumption college theatre department is finally getting a lot more. Opening their production of Oliver April 23rd in the Hanover Theatre in Worcester, they have moved on from the decor of wooden bleachers and less than ideal acoustics to a world of magic and grandeur. With its chandeliers, red carpets, and a private dressing room for each major cast member, the Hanover Theatre seems to inspire ~ even demand ~ a level of professionalism and passion in all who perform under its majestic ceiling.
Directed by Brian Tivnan, longtime Instructor of Theatre Arts at Assumption College, the Assumption production combines three generations: fifteen schoolchildren, 35 college students and five senior citizens from the WISE program. Local professional actor and 1972 graduate Robert Vanasse is returning to his Alma Mater to play the comical criminal Fagin. Local nine year old Matthew Krauss plays Oliver. The Artful Dodger is played by Ryan Strong of Wrentham. A nine year old “little professional,” Ryan has appeared in films and also models in Boston. Nancy, a kind hearted Cockney girl who tends to mother the young pickpockets, is portrayed by Jill Mortuail. Bill Sikes, Nancy’s criminal boyfriend and otherwise villain of this tale, is played by Assumption student Tobin Hasse. A star on the Assumption basketball team with no previous theatre experience, Tobin signed up for Tivnan’s acting course on a whim. To everyone’s surprise, he had amazing raw acting talent. Now all his friends and family will see him in a brand new light, commanding his scenes on stage.
Jennifer Agbay, Artistic Director of Ballet Arts Worcester and Producer/Choreographer of Worcester’s The Nutcracker Ballet, which just enjoyed its second season at the Hanover, continues her frequent collaboration with Tivnan by returning to choreograph this production, along with Fred Frabotta (who, along with Agbay, has worked with Tivnan on numerous productions) as Musical Director. Husband and wife team Jamie De Lacosa and Jim Debonaventura are both creative and resourceful with their costumes, using Assumption’s old priest vestments and layering them over hoop skirts to turn them into dresses for the female cast members.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in this production was blending all the different ages. With a twinkle in his eye, Tivnan describes managing rehearsals with fifty kids, revealing that the high energy and lack of focus in the room often explodes into giggling and ninja kicks. But just knowing they are to perform in a venue such as the Hanover motivates everyone to perform at his or her very best.
The show runs April 23, 24, 25 at 7 PM, with a Sunday matinee a 2PM. Tickets are twelve dollars for students and fourteen dollars for adults. To order tickets, one may either call the Hanover Theatre at (508) 831-0800, or order them online at www.thehanovertheatre.org.