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Liam Hokama shares the role of Oliver with Bjorn Johnson in Camelot's "Oliver!" Photo by Steve Sutfin

Camelot's holiday fare, 'Oliver!' is full of life

Everyone’s favorite orphan is coming to Camelot Theatre in an updated, somewhat darker adaptation of the well-loved musical “Oliver!”

Inspired by Charles Dickens’ classic novel “Oliver Twist,” director Shawn Ramagos opted for a heavier approach to Lionel Bart’s 1963 award-winning musical adventure set in the slums of Victorian England.

The seedier side of London provides the backdrop in his interpretation, he says.

Ramagos says “Oliver!” is usually played light — “so light that audiences forget it’s a Dickens piece. It’s also one of his darkest.”

Ramagos also adds orchestration and extended versions of familiar portions of the score based on the 1994 and 2009 London revivals of the show, including “Consider Yourself” and “Who Will Buy?”

“The symphonic underscoring gives the production a more cinematic feeling,” he says. “There is a dramatic feel, a dramatic mood.”

The rousing tale of the lonely orphan looking for love in all the wrong places is one of Ramagos’ favorites.

“I have been in the show twice as a performer,” he says. “‘Oliver!’ holds a special place in my heart.”

Camelot’s production of “Oliver!” previews Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 28 and 29, at the community theater, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Tickets are pay-what-you-can on Wednesday and $20 on Thursday.

The musical opens Friday, Nov. 30, and runs through Sunday, Dec. 30. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with a bonus evening performance set for Wednesday, Dec. 26. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Sundays with a Christmas Eve matinee set for 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 24.

Tickets are $29 to $36. A limited supply of rush tickets is available 10 minutes before curtain. Rush tickets are $20 for general admission or $10 for students with a valid student identification.

Middle school students Bjorn Johnson and Liam Hokama share the role of Oliver, a young, starving orphan who appears doomed to life in a London workhouse. Sold as an apprentice to an undertaker, Oliver is neglected and mistreated. He escapes and later finds acceptance among a group of petty thieves and pickpockets led by the elderly Fagin (Lanny Horn), a career criminal who lures homeless waifs. Embraced by a motley crew that includes The Artful Dodger (played by Kanai Liafau and Lionel Ward), young Oliver learns to survive by his wits and by picking a pocket or two. Along the way, he also steals hearts.

When Oliver is captured for a theft that he did not commit, the benevolent victim, Mr. Brownlow (Gary Plano), takes him in. Fearing the safety of his hideout, Fagin employs the sinister, brutal Bill Sykes (Bruno Marcotulli) and the kindly, sympathetic Nancy (Kristin Calvin) to kidnap Oliver, and the waifs chances of discovering the true love of a family are threatened.

Also in the cast are: Ava Code, Jackson Deal, Sofia Dimaggio, Holden Farris, Judy Griggs, Kira Herdklotz-Yasutake, Mason Hill, Alex Hume, JJ Jimenez, Bodhi Johnson, Devin Hanson, Adam Kilgore, Meagan Kirby, Jeff Mercer, Mateo Moore, Nicolai Moore, Kaia O’Neill, Gary Plano, Cayo Sharma, Annie Siegel, Eli Siegel, Emily Sullivan and Loraja Ward.

In addition to directing the show, Ramagos is also the set designer and choreographer.

Two-story buildings and landmarks, including London Bridge, reach the rafters.

The extremely high set is imposing in nature, he says. And the youngsters are dwarfed, making them appear smaller and more alone in a big, cruel world.

Ramagos admits “Oliver!” may be unlikely holiday fare, but the show is so full of life, he says, audiences go home singing memorable tunes.

There is poignancy, too, in several scenes and numbers, including “As Long As He Needs Me,” he says.

“The story is full of lessons in being thankful for what we have, including family,” he adds.

As choreographer, Ramagos created extended dance sequences. He found those with 14 young boys singing and dancing in ensemble numbers such as “Food, Glorious Food” to be the most challenging.

He credits the richness and depth of the choral sequences to musical director Don Hopkinson, who conducts an 11-piece orchestra for the show.

The crew behind-the-scenes includes costume designer Anthony Ascencio, lighting designer Bart Grady, sound and video engineer Brian O’Connor and stage manager Starlie Bertrand.

While “Oliver!” is billed as family entertainment, Ramagos does caution audiences there is violence. To soften the brutality, the scenes are played out in silhouette.

Tammy Asnicar is a freelance writer living in Grants Pass. Reach her at tammyasnicar@q.com.

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