Oliver, with a twist

Muse Machine’s Oliver! at the Victoria

By Janell R. Ward

Photo: Isaac Bement (The Artful Dodger) rehearses “Consider Yourself” with the cast of Oliver!; photo: Daniel Rader

Buy tickets now to witness talented students perform in the musical Oliver!, presented by Muse Machine Thursday, Jan. 15 through Sunday, Jan. 18 at the Victoria Theatre.

The Muse Machine organization, which focuses on providing creative programs and experiences for local youth, began in 1982, when founder Suzy Bassani recognized the gap between secondary students and the professional arts societies in Dayton. Bassani was determined to develop students’ love and talent in the performing arts and she created the idea of combining students with expert artists. The youth program offers workshops for the students, provides hands-on experiences with professional artists and unites students from various backgrounds with a common love for the performing arts. Teachers from charter-member schools, middle schools and high schools joined the artists’ educational vision and mission. Approximately 600 teachers and 70,000 students from over 100 suburban, urban and rural elementary and secondary schools in the greater Dayton area have been involved in Muse Machine.

Oliver!, based on the novel “Oliver Twist,” written by English author Charles Dickens in 1838, first debuted in 1960 in London’s West End. In his novel, Dickens writes about a young boy who escapes to London from a miserable orphan work house. In London, Oliver encounters numerous adventures and is awakened to the real world – both of cruelty and kindness.

“Our musical is based on the music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart,” explained Mary Campbell Zopf, executive director of Muse Machine.

Get ready to listen to incredible orchestra numbers and hear family favorites such as “As Long as He Loves Me,” sung by Oliver, “Consider Yourself,” by Oliver, the artful Dodger and the chorus and “Pick a Pocket or Two,” performed by antagonist Fangin and his gang.

Over the years, Oliver! has seen many different interpretations.

“A single story can be interpreted with very different colors,” Douglas Merk, producer and co-director of Oliver!, noted. “When Lionel Bart adapted Oliver! as a musical, he created comedic colors in many characters and added moments of joy and excitement through big musical productions.” He continued, “Muse’s interpretation is bright, funny and has fun with the peculiar characters Oliver meets on his adventure. The dance numbers are frequent and we reimagine them on a grand scale. There are poignant moments in the show to be sure, but these audiences will laugh and clap along through most of the journey.”

Thirty-six students from different elementary schools will also be joining the cast of Oliver! as the workhouse orphans in the opening scene. Merk spoke highly of the hard work the students put into the show.

“The process of building the show is quite an accomplishment for the young people involved,” Merk said. “Each small segment is rehearsed rigorously – dance, songs, scenes, orchestration, technical aspects, until we finally move from the studio to the theatre in January.” Do not miss this year’s selected principal performers including Joey Shairbaum as Oliver, Rollie Fisk as Fagin, Brianna Russ as Nancy and Isaac Bement as The Artful Dodger.

Muse Machine has succeeded in being community driven.

“Muse Machine encourages partnerships with Dayton area arts organizations and individual artists,” Zopf said. “It acts as an arts education liaison that enables Dayton Ballet, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Dayton Opera, Dayton Philharmonic and the Human Race Theatre Company as well as many individual artists to take performances into the schools.”

Merk also noted the wonderful growth in community in the city of Dayton.

“With 150 kids coming from more than 50 schools, everyone across the greater Miami Valley is represented here in terms of geography, income, cultures – everyone comes together in one studio to create.”

Muse Machine presents Oliver! Thursday, Jan. 15 through Saturday, Jan. 17 at the Victoria Theatre, 126 North Main Street. Performance times are Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets vary in price. For tickets and more information, please visit musemachine.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Janell R. Ward at JanellRWard@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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