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Oliver Twisting the Night Away


Published January 18, 2011 at 6:56 p.m.

That's what I'll be doing one night next week. Cuz I attended a bit of a rehearsal of Vermont Stage Company's production of Oliver Twist and have to say it's looking, and sounding, good. I went to hear some of David Symons' sweetly dissonant music in context — see my piece on the Burlington composer in this week's Seven Days.

David (pictured at right) got the cool gig of writing original music for Oliver Twist, an adaptation by Brit theater artist/playwright Neil Bartlett. What I heard in rehearsal made me want to hear more. As VSC artistic director Mark Nash put it, "David is surpassing my expectations."

But I also came away impressed with this cast, a number of whom are making their VSC debut with this production. There are 12 actors performing 25 roles, in a variety of 19th-century British accents.

Little Oliver is played by Libby Belitsos of Northfield (pictured below), who at 11 is already a theater vet. And she holds her own with a stellar bunch of pros, including Ethan Bowen (Fagin), Robbie Tann (Artful Dodger), Jordan Gullikson (Bill Sikes), Chris Caswell (Nancy) and more. The play is dark, melodramatic, and at times tragic. Yet I found myself laughing out loud. Especially at Kevin Christopher as the prim Mrs. Sowerberry. Nothing like a guy in a dress.

New Yorker Jason Jacobs returns to VSC to direct Oliver Twist — regular theatergoers will likely remember his work with Opus and Vanya/Vermont. Jacobs also directed actor/activist Kathryn Blume in The Boycott and, in Ithaca, N.Y. The Accidental Activist. In New York, he cofounded Theatre Askew, where he directs a theater program for LGBTQ youth, among other things.

Jacobs acknowledges David Symons' challenge putting Dickens-speak to music — it's not rhythmic, he notes. "There's no real meter." But, says Jacobs, "This cast has a strong musical background, so they're embracing it. My approach is 'singing with intention.'"

It's all part of the steam-punk movement, he suggests of the Kurt Weill-inspired music. And I'll let you look up that one. My guess is, Dickens would be pleased.