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Alliance Theatre Presents 'Oliver!'

Children's Classic Is July 11-13 at Chantilly High School

Featuring 56 children and 17 adults, The Alliance Theatre's production of the musical, "Oliver!" will burst upon the stage, Friday-Sunday, July 11-13.

Showtimes are Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m., in Chantilly High's auditorium. Tickets are $5, ages 11 and under; $8, students and senior citizens and $10, adults. Call 703-263-2085.

"Since this is part of our Summer Stars program, the kids received acting, vocal, dance and accent training and got to perform with professional actors, said Patricia Boswell Kallman, co-producing "Oliver!" with Elaine Wilson. "We added a performance and double cast three of the youth leads because we got such a good turnout."

Little Rocky Run's Kathy Watkins is director, her daughter Lynsie is choreographer, and Greg Conrad of Poplar Tree Estates is music director. Calling the children energetic and willing to work, Watkins said the audience "will be knocked over by their singing."

Based on Charles Dickens' novel, "Oliver Twist," about an English orphan in the 1830s-'40s, the play won three Tonys and the 1968 film captured six Oscars, including Best Picture.

ALLIANCE'S CAST INCLUDES multiple members of 17 families, plus live music — a pit band and piano accompaniment by Chantilly High grad Meredith Young. Kallman said everyone's having a good time rehearsing and "even the little ones are singing their hearts out. It's a fun show, and I'm constantly blown away by what the kids can do."

Kevin Clay and Nathan Fulford, each 10, play Oliver. "Oliver is a shy kid who doesn't talk a lot, but he has lots of emotions, and you have to show them by your facial expressions and actions," said Kevin. "You think, 'How can I do Oliver? It's such a big role.' But once you practice your lines, it gets easier."

Nathan says playing Oliver is "like a dream" for him. He likes the character's range of emotions — "being able to act happy, sad and angry, laugh and cry." And, added Nathan: "I'm good at copying voices — I rented the movie several times. I'm gonna give it my all."

Watkins' son Doug, 14, plays the Artful Dodger. "He's sometimes a sly character who tries to act more mature than you think he is but, when you go deeper, he's still a child," he said. Doug said he learned "stage presence" during the Summer Stars program and will continue in drama at Centreville High.

Sharing the role is Jake Ashey, 12. "I was excited — it was the part I was aiming for," he said. "He's cool and is a talented pickpocket. And I especially like singing, 'Consider Yourself [Part of the Family],' because I get the most solos in that song."

Playing Bet (along with Dana Carlstrom) is Molly Seltzer, 12, whose character idealizes her friend Nancy and serenades Oliver. "I've always loved singing — you really get to let your emotions out," she said. "My favorite number is 'A Fine Life,' a duet with Nancy." She says the audience will love the show because it's both sad and funny.

MEREDITH LYNCH, 15, who recently played Christine in Chantilly High's Cappie play, "I Remember Mama," portrays Charlotte Sowerberry, a comedic character whose parents run a coffin shop. "She has an outrageous, British accent — her voice goes up and down, a lot," said Lynch. "It's fun — I get to work opposite my friend Greg [Rottman] who was also in 'I Remember Mama.'"

Noting that much of the cast is under 12, she said, "It's amazing to see what they can do." And she said both adults and children will enjoy the show because "there are a lot of jokes that adults will get that the kids won't."

Rottman, a rising junior at Chantilly, plays Noah Claypoole, who works at the coffin shop. "He's sarcastic and has a sharp wit," he said. "He says what he thinks and doesn't hold back much. He's not really a bad guy, but is kind of malicious — and I don't usually get to play mean parts, so it's fun to see this side of acting."

Portraying Nancy is Erin Miele, 21, a music-education major at the University of Tennessee. "She's a graduate of 'Fagin's Thieves' House,' learning to be a pickpocket, and the other kids look up to her," said Miele. "She's in love with Bill Sykes, who controls Fagin, but he's emotionally abusive to her and she hides her pain."

Still, she said, "I've always wanted to play this role because 'As Long As He Needs Me' — one of my most-favorite Broadway songs — is my big solo number. And I like being able to play with the kids on stage during two of my songs."

JIM MITCHELL OF SULLY ESTATES plays Fagin — "the lovable villain of the piece. He's a crook who runs a gang of pickpockets, but he really cares about the kids and Nancy. And you watch him visibly review his whole life in a number called, 'I'm Reviewing the Situation.' He takes a hard look at what's going on around him and doesn't like [it]."

Mitchell says most of what Fagin does on stage is "very campy, so you can't possibly overact. The sky's the limit, and the kids are a ball." He says the audience will "have a blast" seeing the show.

"Anybody with children will be captivated by it, and it's such a classic story — the orphan who becomes the grandson of an aristocrat — that it's the quintessential fairy tale," said Mitchell. "The singing and dancing are light-hearted and fun, and at the same time, there's a darker thread — Bill Sykes' evil nature — running through it."

Mitchell's son Pat, 19, a GMU theater major, plays Sykes. "He doesn't care about anybody else and is always violent and nasty," said Pat, adding that he "leaves it all on stage" and doesn't bring it home. "I'm used to playing the happy-go-lucky, older guy and [here], I get to play the young, evil, abusive character. It's a new challenge."

Similarly, Fairfax's Paul Neiswander plays Bumble, a middle-class English gentleman. "He's the terror of the boys in the workhouse," he said. "It's hard for me — I'm a dad; I prefer being comic relief. But I've always wanted to play Bumble because I'm a character actor."