Charles Dickens had a way of creating lovable characters for his novels, like the adorable orphan with the sad blue eyes in Oliver Twist.
Who could forget the line when the half-starved Oliver walks up to the odious headmaster of the orphanage and boldly asks, "Please suh, can I have sa'more?"
The Academy of Children's Theatre has gathered some of the Tri-Cities' equally adorable children for its production of Oliver! the musical, which kicks off its 2012-13 season Sept. 28 in the auditorium at Chief Joseph Middle School in Richland.
Director Josh Darby couldn't be happier with his cast and crew, despite the sometimes overwhelming challenges.
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"We have 60 wonderfully talented actors in the show, 10 amazing musicians playing in the pit and more than 30 creative and highly motivated volunteers working on the different technical areas just to get this show in front of an audience," Darby said. "This show has a huge scope, and getting all of these people moving in the same direction and following the same vision is such an awesome challenge."
Dickens' story was turned into a musical in 1960. Lionel Bart wrote the music and the lyrics, and it made its debut at London's West End.
The stage production became a popular community theater production after making it to Broadway in 1963 and then becoming a hit movie in 1968.
To recap the storyline, Oliver escapes the horrors of an orphanage only to become a homeless street urchin in London. He's befriended by an adolescent band of wily pick-pocketers, most notably the Artful Dodger, who follows an adult ringleader named Fagin.
Oliver joins the gang but becomes disillusioned by the life of crime. Then he meets a kindly tavern wench, Nancy, who's also the girlfriend of a nasty burglar named Bill Sikes. She ends up helping Oliver find a way off the streets and out of the clutches of the evil Fagin.
The story brings to life the importance of family, friends and never losing sight of what's good in the world, but it's the music that captures the audience's attention. Songs like Food, Glorious Food, Where is Love, Oliver, I'd Do Anything, Consider Yourself and You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two will stick in your head.
Though Darby sings the praises of his entire cast, he credits 11-year-old Jantz Levin, who plays Oliver, as a key actor.
"Jantz as Oliver is the light that shines through the show," Darby said. "He has brought so much heart and joy to the character. I am so excited for him to get to show off to this community what he can do on stage."
Jantz says there were good and bad parts about taking on the lead role in Oliver.
"The challenges would have to be the fight scene," he said. "It was hard since I've never done fighting in plays before."
But he enjoyed the singing, dancing and having a ton of lines to learn, he added.
The other key roles in Oliver! are played by Becca Kelly as Nancy, Tristan Mailloux as Sikes, Shane Morrow as the Artful Dodger and Richard Nelson as Fagin.
Showtime is 7 p.m. Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 5-6 with 2 p.m. matinees Sept. 29 and Oct. 6. Individual tickets to each performance are $13 for adults, $10 for teens and seniors and $7 for kids ages 12 and younger.
ACT also offers a new season ticket option called Flex Pass. It can be used as a season pass for one person to each show or admission for five people to one show. Cost is $45 for adults or $30 for kids ages 10 and younger.
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org