Starting Aug. 4, the Vienna Community Center will be invaded by pickpockets, thieves and sundry characters from 19th century London as the Vienna Youth Players take the stage with "Oliver!" a musical take on Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" adapted by Lionel Bart.
The 44-member cast ranges in age from 10 to 18 and includes both newcomers and veterans to the stage, as well as a "full-bred mutt" named Snickers.
"Basically the audience can look forward to a somewhat professional production with people performing beyond their years," said Babs Dyer, director of "Oliver!"
The story follows a young orphan named Oliver as he is forced onto the street from the workhouse and is taken in by the Artful Dodger who pulls him into Fagin's den of pickpockets. A character named Nancy mothers the boy and protects him from her brutal boyfriend, Bill Sikes, even with her life.
Oliver, who is played by Noah Lubert, 13, and Mikey Lindsey, 10, was described by Lubert as a kind and meek boy who "doesn't really get a chance in life to live as a real kid."
Joining Lubert and Lindsey onstage are Stephen Baldassari as Fagin, Blake Butler as Bill Sikes, Anna Dausman as Nancy, both Sarah Chapin and Julia Addis-Lieser as the Artful Dodger, Trey Ervine and Megan Stockman as Mr. and Mrs. Soweyberry, and a host of other orphans and pickpockets, as well as an adult character chorus from all walks of life.
AS OPENING NIGHT draws near, many of the actors said they are excited about seeing the reaction of the audience to their rendition of the story. Dausman said she wants to see how her role of Nancy, a woman with a kind heart who lives a very hard life, will be taken by the audience.
The musical softens some of the darker characters somewhat, yet they still retain their edge. Exploring this side of a character has been fascinating to Baldassari, who has incorporated elements of Don Quixote, Captain Jack Sparrow, Herman Munster and the movie version of his character into his presentation of the eccentric criminal Fagin. The most difficult part of the show for him has been "creating this character, because it's different from every character I've played before," he said.
For some of the younger actors, learning their lines was the most difficult part of the show. "It's a lot of fun to be playing a kid in a completely different time where they acted really different. It's a great experience to really go back in time," said Lubert about performing as Oliver.
The actors have prepared for their roles by watching the movie, reading the book, carefully studying their characters' portrayal in the script and researching about the period. Dausman looked beyond the story and read about the effects of abuse and the hardships of the time period on a woman in order to understand the character of Nancy.
Butler scrutinized the script for the descriptions of the harsh and cruel Bill Sikes. "I've got to be that terrorizing, that I walk into the room and scare everyone," he said, aiming to cause the audience to have the same reaction as the other characters.
WHAT HAS BEEN most exciting for Dyer and for Michele Dausman, co-producer with Dawn Dailey, has been watching it all come together. Dyer, a director in Vienna for 15 years, said her favorite aspect of working with the company is "the support we get from the town. They are incredibly supportive of children's theater," she said, citing an operating budget, providing a performing space and staff, and other assistance where needed.
After six weeks of rehearsals to learn lines, songs and dances, the cast and crew are excited about opening night. Michele Dausman said the audience can look forward to wonderful chorals and vocals, great costumes, a great set designed by Keegan Cassidy and seeing the youths just have a lot of fun.