Real-life and on-stage families star in ‘Oliver!’
Oct 24, 2019 04:57PM
● By Alison Brimley
The cast of West Jordan Youth Theater’s “Oliver!” (Blythe Starkie)
By Alison Brimley | [email protected]
The day before its show opens, the cast of West Jordan Youth Theater has a final dress rehearsal for its production of “Oliver!” The performers are busy getting into costume, but the musical director already wears a shirt that proudly announces her role: Theater Mom.
In fact, almost everyone in charge here—director, producer and more—is also a parent of one or more performers. West Jordan Youth Theater is overseen by a board, and when it’s time to put on a show, the board members take turns taking different roles.
This time, board member Chelsea McGee took on the role of director. “I’ve loved ‘Oliver!’ since I was a little girl, so I knew if I ever directed, it would be this show,” McGee said.
The musical, based on Charles Dickens’ 1837 novel “Oliver Twist” and was adapted for the stage by Lionel Bart in 1968. West Jordan Youth Theater performed Sept. 19–30 at Joel P. Jensen Middle School. This fall, it was just the right time for McGee to step up. Though she’s served as assistant director and musical director before, this is her first time at the helm.
While it has been daunting, she reports that her directorial debut has been a great experience. The cast has picked things up quickly, and things have gone smoothly, despite the challenges of working with kids ages 8 to 18, all with varying levels of experience in theater.
The organization relies heavily on the support of all parents with children in the show. For each child who wants to participate, a $50 participation fee is required, which covers a T-shirt and other expenses such the cost of venue.
“Wrangling 50 to 60 kids is also very hard, so we ask parents to volunteer their time,” producer Tracey Lyu said. That volunteer time is spent supervising kids, creating costumes, set painting, gathering props and working concessions once the show opens.
“West Jordan’s got a great community that comes together and helps us pull off great productions,” Lyu said.
McGee and Lyu both joined the board of West Jordan Youth Theater after their children performed with the group. Now the families participate together. Lyu describes herself as “a huge advocate for volunteering time” who thought, “Why not join the theater?” McGee’s family was drawn in by her oldest daughter, now in college. This introduced her to the ladies on the board, which inspired her to join herself. They were “helping to create something that people really like,” McGee said. “I thought, I can do that. I can help with that.”
Only two of the current board members don’t have kids in the production. Because this presents a potential conflict when it comes to auditions, McGee said, they do everything they can to keep the casting process objective.
“When it comes to our kids, we either step out of the room or don’t comment,” she said.
In real life and on stage, then, “Oliver!” is a family-centered show. The story follows orphan Oliver Twist. After being raised in a workhouse and sold to a mortician, Oliver falls in with a gang of young pickpockets, led by the Artful Dodger and overseen by the conniving Fagin. After a series of dangerous turns, Oliver is finally adopted by the wealthy Mr. Brownlow.
For 11-year-old Carter Mann, who stars as Oliver, the “suspenseful” plot is what interested him in the show. This is Mann’s second performance with WJYT, following his portrayal of Michael Darling in Peter Pan in its spring 2018 production.
Anthony Bowe, who plays the role of Fagin, is, at 19, one of the oldest and most experienced performers in the cast. He tried out for the show, his first with WJYT, on a whim. This show has taught him a lot of lessons, especially how to work with younger children and to “connect with people of all ages.” Thus, he’s had to almost embody the role of his character by taking younger children under his wing—though perhaps in a less criminally oriented way.
But it’s Dodger, a member of Fagin’s gang, who delivers some of the most famous lines from the musical. “Consider yourself one of the family,” he sings to Oliver. The attitude of the parents and board members putting on the show echo that message.
“Everybody that comes here, regardless of age, they’ve become this theater family,” McGee said. “You can feel that on the stage. And kids that participate in our program, it’s pretty fast that they feel part of that family.”