Upper School students gave three sold-out performances of their winter musical, Oliver!, in the Trustey Family Theatre from February 28 through March 2. Lionel Bart's classic, based on the adventures of Dickens' Oliver Twist, follows the young orphan (played by eighth grader Evan Gerdes) as he seeks his fortune in Victorian England, encountering a cast of colorful characters including the Artful Dodger, Fagin, Nancy, Mr. Bumble, Bill Sykes, and many others.
According to director and choreographer Sarah Carlin, Shore's theater arts teacher, Oliver! presented Upper School students with some unique challenges. "Our young performers were asked to jump into the dark world of Victorian England—where life was often especially hard for poor children on their own in a cruel world—and find moments of humanity, humor, and joy. Taking on characters so far from their own experiences required curiosity, open hearts, and much hard work."
Students credited Carlin with challenging them to stretch the limits of their abilities and imaginations. Eighth grader Meg Hoffman, who played the role of the Artful Dodger, said, "Mrs. Carlin pushes us to our limits every single day and somehow gets us to do things that we never thought we'd be able to do." Just ten days before the first public performance, Carlin explained, no one would have bet on the success of the show; students agreed. "The final weekend before the show," said ninth grader Anya Meaney, who played Mrs. Corney, "we finally came together as a cast and were able to improve all of our scenes. We sang and danced during our lunch breaks." Devan Hernandez, who starred as Fagin, added, "We became increasingly confident after each dress rehearsal."
Still, said Carlin, "That is the thrill of live theater—when all of the separate elements come together at the last minute and create true magic. This cast and crew coalesced and found community with each other." Anya Meaney said, "This is my third and last year performing in the musical, and I am incredibly proud of how this cast and crew succeeded together."
Carlin emphasized that none of the magic audiences saw on stage would have been possible were it not for the many teachers and parents who assisted behind the scenes. She expressed gratitude to math teacher Kent Vienot and third grade teacher Sam Hamlin—"a craftsman, artist, and magician"—who worked with students to design and build the large Victorian-era unit set, and to second grade teacher Laura Thompson, assistant director and choreographer. She thanked theater assistant and sound engineer Sarah Wallingford, and she acknowleged Oliver!'s technical director and lighting designer, theater and Innovation Lab manager Cam McNall, who helped to transport viewers to a darkly moody England. Carlin called out the skillful accompaniment provided by professional and student pit musicians, conducted by music teacher Jenn Boyum, and the countless hours contributed by parent volunteers who assisted with costuming, makeup, props, and more.
She also underscored the contributions not only to this production but also to many other Shore plays and musicals by a past Shore parent and professional costume designer in her own right, Cotton Talbot-Minkin. "Many in our community are aware that Shore possesses an incredible costume collection. But what may not be as well known is that our good fortune is due in large part to one person. Cotton Talbot-Minkin has designed and built hundreds of pieces of costuming for this school. We are so grateful for her expertise and artistry." Shore reading specialist Rondi Kilham served as costume designer for Oliver! "I'm not sure what we would have done without Rondi's patience and willingness to take on the Herculean task of costuming 40 students for this period piece," said Carlin.
With a nearly 200-year-old storyline, Oliver! indeed proved a challenge for all involved. Yet, muses Carlin, "It's been the difficulty of the material in this beautiful musical that's provided all of us with the most meaningful of experiences. 'Where is love?' the song asks—it's right here."