Lyric Theatre kicks off its summer run at the Civic Center Music Hall this week with “Oliver!” Based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” this musical adaptation tells the story of the young orphan who escapes the misery of a workhouse by joining a group of pickpockets.
The production is being helmed by Michael Baron, Lyric’s artistic director, who cited memorable musical numbers like “Food, Glorious Food” and the theme of finding the best in life during hard times, as helping make “Oliver!” popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
Under Baron’s direction, this production will differ from Lyric’s previous, more lighthearted stagings, taking more inspiration from Dickens’ novel to evoke the spirit of Victorian London and the plight of the poor and orphaned. Baron’s approach is informed by his years working with disadvantaged youth in Chicago.
“By constantly going back to look at Dickens’ novel, I have tried — with all aspects of the production — to be more true to his intentions,” he said. “The set is purposely large and looming, the costumes are dirty and distressed, the fights and physical treatment of the characters are more realistic, the actors are approaching their characters honestly, and the dancing is story-based.”
Baron said the gritty story will be balanced by the joy and hope of the musical numbers.
Sam Brown, an 11-year-old Edmondite, makes Oliver. Having attended Civic Center shows with his parents since age 3, Brown occasionally has dabbled in acting.
“I gave it a try a few times, starting when I was 5,” Brown said. “But last year is when I decided to really go for it and put 100 percent time and effort behind theater.”
His introduction to “Oliver!” was as part of Fagin’s gang in an Edmond production last year.
“The appeal for me is the challenge,” he said. “This is the biggest role I’ve ever had. There aren’t too many roles this big for a kid my age. It’s one of those roles, like ‘Annie’ for girls, that all kids want to play someday. Getting to perform at a theater like Lyric and at Civic Center is a young actor’s dream come true.”
Brown will be joined onstage by Campbell Walker Fields in the role of The Artful Dodger. Fagin will be played by Broadway actor Dirk Lumbard, last seen at Lyric in 2010’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Another stage veteran, Eleasha Gamble, makes her Lyric debut as Nancy.
In addition to the main cast, “Oliver!” features 60 children from Lyric’s “Camp Oliver” that took place two weeks prior to opening.
“I’m truly excited at the acting company we’ve assembled,” Baron said. “Every scene is full of great performances, and the 80-plus voices make the score sound fantastic!”