THIS IS ONE Oliver with a twist. The Savannah College of Art and Design School of Performing Arts will present Oliver Twist March 6-9 at Trustees Theater.
It’s based on the novel by Charles Dickens, which was adapted by Neil Bartlett. In Bartlett’s version, the tale of the forlorn but lovable orphan is told in 24 scenes of songs and tableaux. These are performed by a small company of actors who appear in multiple roles.
The production includes original music by SCAD professor, and director of the Honeybees singing ensemble, David Alan Bunn. Performing arts professor Laurence Ballard, an award-winning actor who has appeared in more than 150 productions, appears as Fagin.
The show is being directed by Sharon Ott, SCAD performing arts professor and former manager of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. “I’m very excited to direct this fantastic new adaptation of Oliver Twist,” Ott says.
“Bartlett’s version is true to the original but brings the story fully into our century,” she says. “It’s swift, theatrical and thrilling.”
This version isn’t like any other that proceeded it, and while it has music, it certainly isn’t a musical. “It’s very fresh,” Ott says. “Bartlett has attempted to go back to Dickens’ novel. The story is a gritty one,. The music is more in the style of English music hall music. It in no way resembles the musical Oliver!, not at all.”
While Dickens’ work tends to be verbose, this version moves very quickly from scene to scene. “It doesn’t shy away from the real violence and psychological violence experienced by the boys who are working for Fagin,” Ott says. “Bartlett’s style has a real edge to it. But it never gets too grim.”
The show is even suitable for children. “Certainly for anyone over 10,” Ott says. “Because of its energy, it moves right along. They’re not going to be bored.”
There are more than 20 SCAD students in the cast. Ballard was chosen to play Fagin because of his experience and stage presence. “It was important to me to have a professional actor in the role,” Ott says. “I thought the only possible way we could do this was with an anchor in the cast.”
It is the first time a SCAD production has used a professional actor in a stage role, so Ballard is making history. He’s also setting an example for his students. ”I describe myself as an actor who teaches and not a teacher who acts,” he says.
“I’m 54, and in the course of every adult’s life, if you’ve been successful, there comes a time to return that largesse,” Ballard says. “It’s time to help another generation.”
SCAD presents Oliver Twist March 6, 7 and 8 at 8 p.m. and March 9 at 3 p.m. Admission $10 fgeneral public, $5 students, seniors and military, and free for students, faculty and staff with a valid SCAD ID. Tickets are available online at www.scadboxoffice.com, by phone at 525-5050, or at the SCAD box office at 216 E. Broughton St.
• Oliver Twist is the first novel in the English language to feature a child as the protagonist.
• Dickens was paid by the word, and Oliver Twist was originally published as a serial that appeared monthly in Bentley’s Miscellany.
• Not one of Dickens’ novels or short stories has ever gone out of print.
• Dickens had a pet raven named Grip. When it died, he had it stuffed and it can be seen today at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
• Both the Berkeley and Seattle repertory theaters have been awarded Tonys for Best Regional Theater Company.