Dickens of a taleYoung thespians from Northwestern High School got to explore their dark sides while rehearsing for their annual musical, “Oliver!”
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Young thespians from Northwestern High School got to explore their dark sides while rehearsing for their annual musical, “Oliver!”
Senior Luke Johnson stepped into the role of Fagin, who teaches young boys to pick pockets on the streets of London.
“I just like the fact that I can be really creepy and old-mannish and just quirky,” he said.
Johnson’s brother Nicholas, a freshman, tackled the role of the pickpocket Artful Dodger.
“I like to be a cocky jerk,” he said of his character.
Junior Matt Stai plays Mr. Bumble, a pompous man who runs an orphanage and sells the title character. And then there’s the villain of the piece, Bill Sykes, played by senior Luke Schulz.
“It’s really fun playing a really evil character,” Schulz said. It’s a far cry from past roles he’s played on the high school stage, including a butler, rabbi and hobo in last year’s production of “Annie.”
Drama director Pat Luostari said one of the biggest challenges of this year’s production was delving into the dark side of the play, based on the Charles Dickens novel. The story line follows a young orphan named Oliver who asks for more gruel. He is then sold, abused and ends up in a den of thieves. But there are kind characters in the story as well, and they try to pave the way to a better life for the lad.
Senior Susan Johnson, no relation to Luke and Nicholas, enjoys her role as Nancy, one of those helping hands. Mr. Brownlow, played by sophomore Zach Davis, also serves as a haven to the boy.
“I like getting to kind of save Oliver out of all the trouble he’s in,” Davis said.
Added to the dark storyline and colorful characters are some very humorous lines, Luostari said, as well as cheerful tunes including “Where is Love,” “As Long as He Needs Me” and “Consider Yourself.”
“It’s a good challenge to meld the dark of the actual text with the lightness and fun of the music,” Luostari said.
“The songs are really good,” said senior Ahmed Ben Moussa, an exchange student from Tunisia with multiple roles, including a police officer, teacher and cook. “It’s so fun singing and dancing.”
His favorite part is playing a drunk at the Three Cripples bar while singing the catchy tune “Oom-Pah-Pah.”
“I personally love that song and I think people will like it the most,” Ben Moussa said.
The cast includes 20 high school students and a raft of orphans — 32 boys in grades four through eight, including seventh grader Kelby Werner in the title role. What is it like working with such young thespians?
“It is fun,” Susan Johnson said. “They listen pretty well.
She especially enjoyed working with Kelby.
“Everyone gets along with him,” the senior said. “He’s been a blessing to have in the cast.”
The boys were very well-behaved, Luostari said. She and musical director Mike Goodlet may be starting a tradition. Last year, they cast 32 girls from the elementary and middle school in the orphan roles for “Annie.” Adding younger actors has been a positive move.
“It helps integrate our school district, our parents and our students,” Luostari said. “It provides a link between generations and the buildings. And it’s a good way to get younger students aware that we do this.” So by the time they reach high school, they can try out for roles.
A number of students are lending a hand behind the scenes on the light, set and props crews, as well as the pit orchestra under the direction of Michael Hintzman. Now, they’re ready to share the finished product.
“Oliver” will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Patricia Luostari Theatre for the Performing Arts at Northwestern High School.
Tickets are $8 for adults, and $7 for seniors and students. The admission price includes dessert. Call 715-363-2423 ext. 2000 for ticket information.