The optimism of Oliver
Laughing Stock brings Oliver the musical to Sun Valley
By HANS IBOLD
Express Staff Writer
Oliver Twist is by far the most depressing of Charles
Dickens novels, but the Laughing Stock Theater Companys musical adaptation of
the novel, to be performed Nov. 5 through Nov. 10 at the Sun Valley Opera House, could be
one of the most joyful theater events of the season.
In fact, Oliverthe story of a hungry boy and of the
poverty and greed that oppressed 19th century Englandwas not chosen for thematic
reasons, according to Kathy Wygle, Laughing Stock director and the director of Oliver.
It was chosen because it was the kind of musical that would provide a community event or,
as Wygle said, a "binding and bonding experience."
Laughing Stock, the oldest theater company in the valley with over 35
shows to its name, knows how to stage a community event. For Oliver, the company
brought together a cast of 20 children (ages 6 to 18) and 22 adults; a cast coordinator; a
stage manager; a director; two musical directors; three choreographers; four set
designers; and a litany of make-up artists, costumers, and technical support. Remarkably,
the stock is all local.
"Community theater is almost a celebration," said Wygle.
"Something happens between the audience and the actors because they know each other.
Theres a kind of pride that they can share."
To Wygle, one of the founders of Laughing Stock, that connection is
"a crucial and wonderful aspect of community life."
Besides that audience and actor exchange, there is also a connection
happening among families on the set of Oliver.
Two generations of Pruitts, Harrisons, Dallagos, Hemmings and Stuarts
are interacting on the stage, making Oliver one of the most family-oriented
productions in Laughing Stocks history.
As strong as her convictions are about community-building through
theater, Wygle is just as steeped in professionalism.
"Our level of expectation is really high," said Wygle.
"We take our auditions very seriously. Luckily, with the cross section of people
living in the valley, we have a pool of excellent talent, excellent voices."
Since those auditions in September, cast members have rehearsed at
least three times a week. And for the past three weeks, they have rehearsed six days a
"Its a huge commitment," Wygle said.
Despite the rigorous rehearsal schedule, the cast and production staff
became possessed of a kind of magic when pianist Dorinda Rendahl began playing during a
rehearsal at Next Stage Theater last week. As the "Consider Yourself One of us"
number began, facial expressions animated, accents turned British, and 60 voices
"The songs are captivating," Wygle said. Lionel Bart adapted
the Dickens novel, wrote the lyrics and composed the music. "We loved the music from
the beginning. Theyre catchy, fun songs."
Indeed, even siblings of cast members who were sidelined at the
rehearsal were ignoring their school books and singing along.
While Barts music is enchanting, the story of Oliver is, of
course, what ultimately captivates.
"Its the universal story of the hungry kid," said
JoEllen Collins, who teaches high school English at the Community School. "You
cant help but love Oliver. He tries to buck the system and he finagles his way
through it. He manages."
Its Victorian England but its still relevant today, Collins
"Hes writing about a segment of society that still
exists," Collins said. "Theres still have-nots, still street kids. So
its not beyond the imagination."
Dickens was a crusader for the rights of poverty-stricken children and
fascinated with their plight, Collins said.
"He was really a social reformer," she said. "He loved
looking at the underbelly of Victorian society in England."
A musical is a great vehicle to communicate the story of Oliver and
reveal it to an audience that might not otherwise embrace Dickens writing, Collins
Barts adaptation retains the most important elements of
Dickens plot, but the two villains become funnier, the gang of child thieves becomes
lovable and the slums of London become less alcohol and drug ridden.
Oliver the musical opened in London in 1960 and came to Broadway three
years later. After nearly 800 performances, it became the longest running musical import
until Evita arrived in 1980.
Starring in Oliver are Sam Mott as Oliver, Will Hemmings as the
Artful Dodger, Chad Stuart as Fagan, Gordon Noice as Sykes, Cheryl Morrel as Nancy, Steve
DSmith as Mr. Bumble and Patty Parsons as Widow Comey.
The performances are at 7:30 p.m. nightly from Nov. 5 to Nov. 10 at the
opera house. Reserved seating tickets are available at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum.
Tickets for adults are $18; children under 15 are $14. For more information, call