‘Oliver’ bridges the stage at DCP Theatre

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The Ridge Road bridge over the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast Extension in Salford Township may be closed for construction work, but just down the road at DCP Theatre, there’s a 10 foot high remake of London Bridge for DCP’s July 18 through Aug. 2 production of “Oliver.”
Set designer Caris Baliles said she came up with the design after first considering a few other ideas.
“Finally, I drew this crazy angled bridge. It made me think of a train crashing into the stage,” Baliles said.
Although it’s big and covers one side of the stage, the bridge doesn’t make up the entire set.
There are also townhouses shaped like coffins “just for extra eeriness,” Baliles said.
The show is designed to have a similar feel to Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” Shelby Winder, stage manager said.
The bridge will get a lot of use, she said.
“We have people climbing all over, on top, on the bottom,” Winder said. In fact, there will be people everywhere on the stage, she said.
“It’s gonna be wild,” Winder said.
“Definitely, we’ll be sticking people all over the place,” Baliles said. “We have a huge cast.”
The cast for musicals is always larger than for other shows, but this one is even more so, Ray Thompson, the show’s director, said.
“I believe it is the largest cast I’ve directed here,” Thompson said. “There’s 43.”
More than half are high school age or younger.

A scene from "Oliver." Photo by Colleen Algeo

A scene from “Oliver.” Photo by Colleen Algeo

Julia Witwer, who plays the Artful Dodger, is a home-schooled student going into 11th grade.
She was also in last year’s musical at DCP, “Once Upon a Mattress.”
“In ‘Mattress,’ I was the youngest person in the whole show,” Witwer said, “and now there’s so many younger ones. It’s an interesting change.”
As one of the oldest of the young people in the show, she’s been able to be somewhat of a teacher to some of the younger cast members, she said.
“The kids sing more than the adults do, actually, which is very unusual for a show,” Victoria Henry, the show’s music director, said.
“The cockney accents are fun, and challenging at times,” David Williams, the vocal coach, said. “I don’t think it makes the singing more difficult, but it adds to the challenge. The kids are getting into it.”
Witwer said she was taken aback a little bit when she first saw the bridge on the set.
“I’m supposed to jump off it,” she said. “That’s a little scary.”
The show features a lot of action scenes and cast members running around, she said, and “It’s a really cool set.”
The multi-level set design helps give more options for places to put the large cast, Baliles said.
“Directors love levels. They can play around with them a lot,” she said.
The children involved in the show are all very talented, Michael Covel, the show’s choreographer, said.
Having more levels and set pieces can make it more difficult to teach the dances, but will make it a better show, he said.
In designing the dancing, he also had to keep in mind the 19th century English setting of the musical based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.”
“There have been moves that I thought, they look good, but then I thought, no, that’s too modern or jazzy, maybe that’s not time period appropriate,” Covel said.
Covel, who was dance captain and choreographed one song for last year’s “Once Upon a Mattress,” said this was the first time he’s choreographed an entire show.
“It’s been a very daunting task,” he said. “I’ve mostly been in shows, not on the production end, so it’s been difficult, but not too difficult, and I’ve learned a lot.”
Liam Keenan, who will be a seventh grader at Owen J. Roberts Middle School in the fall, plays the title role. This is the first show he’s done at DCP, he said, but he’s been in other productions elsewhere, including “Shrek,” “Schoolhouse Rock” and “Wizard of Oz.”
“Every show I’ve done is a musical,” he said.
Being in “Odyssey of the Mind” led to his interest in being on stage, Keenan said.
“It really pushes that self creativity, and that’s what really pushed me to theater,” he said.
Keenan’s other interests include lacrosse and rugby.
While running off a lacrosse field, recently, though, Keenan fell in a ditch, rolled and twisted his leg.
“It was minor; it healed in two days, but I had crutches,” Keenan said. “I still play lacrosse, but I have to watch I don’t hurt myself for the show, because that’s a priority now.”
Bill Algeo plays the role of Fagin.
“He’s a tough character to play,” Algeo said.
“In the book, he’s really dark and controlling of the boys,” Algeo said. In the musical, Fagin is still a villian, Algeo said, but has other qualities that weren’t in the book.
“He’s more nurturing,” Algeo said.
Costume designer Cathy Zeller said she used a lot of dark colors in clothing the characters.
Chorus members who play more than one role have to change their costumes, so she gave them basic outfits that could be simply changed.
“I made it easy that they’re just adding and subtracting clothes,” Zeller said.
Several of the children in the cast are also in the Drama Kids program, Algeo and Thompson said.
Algeo is the director of Drama Kids of Montgomery County, which has classes at DCP and other locations within Montgomery County.
Being in an actual theater production adds to the training received from Drama Kids, Algeo said.
“This is kind of the next level,” he said.
There are also several cases of siblings, parents and children or married couples involved in the show, Algeo, Thompson and Jennifer Brozenske, DCP board president, who plays Widow Corney in the show, said.
That includes husband and wife Ray Thompson, the director, and Nancy Server Thompson, who is the producer and plays the role of Nancy.
“We have a lot of families involved in the theater and a lot of people that met in the theater and brought up their families in the theater,” Brozenske said.
Follow Bob Keeler on Twitter @bybobkeeler.

WHAT: “Oliver”
WHERE: DCP Theatre, 785 Ridge Road, Telford.
WHEN: Fridays & Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m., July 18 through 27. For the closing weekend, performances will be 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, July 31 through Aug. 2. There will be opening weekend wine receptions at the July 18 and 19 shows.
TICKETS: $15, adults; $13, seniors and students. Tickets are available at the door, online at www.dcptheatre.com or by calling 215-234-0966.
INFO: www.dcptheatre.com or 215-234-0966. Ridge Road is closed between White’s Mill Road and South Allentown Road for the turnpike bridge construction, so people coming from that direction should allow extra time for the detour.

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Mike Berman