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Lyric Theater staging “Oliver!” Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Times Staff Writer

When Kevin R. Kitto produces shows, he likes to think big. For his latest production, that means a huge cast of 32 children, who all auditioned, and about 55 adults.

Mr. Kitto is the producer and set designer for “Oliver!,” which will be presented by Watertown Lyric Theater on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for four shows at the Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington St.

“Oliver!,” with music, book and lyrics by Lionel Bart, opened on Broadway in 1964. It received scores of Tony Awards, including best musical. A movie version received best picture honors at the 1968 Academy Awards. A Broadway revival was staged in 1984.

The tale, based on the novel by Charles Dickens, is like a returning old friend to director Daniel R. Davis, who is a decades-long veteran of productions presented by Lyric Theater and Little Theatre of Watertown. He directed “Oliver!” in the 1980s for Lyric Theater’s summer youth program.

“I just like the show and working with a large cast, especially the kids,” he said. “They’re learning all their songs and their choreography really fast.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever designed a set for such a large cast,” Mr. Kitto said.

He said the “Oliver!” set is designed to be “very drab and dark,” reflecting dreary Victorian London.

“It’s designed to bring the characters forward and to bring them to life in comparison,” he said.

Contrasting with the drab atmosphere are upbeat tunes like “Food, Glorious Food” and “Consider Yourself.” Music in the Lyric Theater show will be performed by an orchestra directed by Allison Root Barrigar.

The show is choreographed by Lisa Boulter.

Mr. Kitto said the Lyric Theater production is fast-moving.

“Characters walk into one scene from another,” he said. “There’s not these long scene changes. The first four or five go one right after the other.”

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Mr. Davis said it’s been a pleasure seeing the kids discover the tale of the boy who runs away from an orphanage and begins running with a group of boys trained to be pickpockets by an elderly mentor.

Oliver is played by Lyric Theater rookie Philip J. Marra III, 10, son of Ticia K. and Philip J. Marra. Mrs. Marra is the founder of Stage Notes, a theatrical production company for youth.

When the curtain rises, we first see Oliver sitting with other children at tables in a workhouse. Pale-faced wretches can be seen peering through the bars of a door.

Despite such gloom, Phillip says he is having fun in the leading role.

“I get to have a lot of fun and do a lot of stuff that other kids don’t really get to do,” said Philip, a fifth-grade student at H.T. Wiley Intermediate School.

An example: “I run on a table — with permission,” he said.

Philip’s brothers, Joshua K., 9, and Jack, P., 7, also are in the show. Mrs. Marra, their mom, plays the Widow Corney.

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Oliver and other children are taught a lifestyle of crime by Fagin, the musical’s antagonist, played by Barry Pratt, theater manager of the Clayton Opera House.

“It’s a challenge working with kids,” Mr. Pratt said. “They’ll steal the show every time.”

The last time Mr. Pratt performed in a Lyric Theater show was in 2006 with another Dickens’ show, “A Christmas Carol.” He played Scrooge.

“I think they’re trying to typecast me,” Mr. Pratt said, laughing.

Despite efforts by Fagin, the title character in “Oliver!” finds happiness in the end, while others, including the tragic Nancy and her brutal lover Bill Sykes aren’t so lucky.

Nichole M. Fiacco, who plays Nancy, said she’s returning to a main role in Lyric Theater productions after performing in ensembles in the past few years.

“The play caught my attention because it involves a lot of children, and I have kids,” Mrs. Fiacco said. “I also have a step-daughter who’s involved.”

Mrs. Fiacco said her Nancy character seems typecast for her.

“I always play the tough, kind of softie, less than desirable character,” she said.

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As for dozens of others in the cast, Lyric Theater has become a family tradition for Mrs. Fiacco.

“As soon as I was old enough to be in a show, my mom had me in one,” she said.

Other families working in the production:

n Robert Wilson’s twins, Joshua and Jordan, are in the show, and his wife, Tara, and daughter, Jessica, are helping backstage. Mr. Wilson played “Oliver” when the Lyric Theater’s summer youth group staged it in the 1980s.

n Kate Comet plays Bet and her brother, Jason, is the rehearsal accompanist and also plays keyboards in the orchestra. Their father, Jeff Comet, is the show’s lighting technician.

n Barry Davis is in the show with his daughter, Zalena, and Chris Autote’s son, Drew, is also in the show.

“Many of the cast have brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles in the cast,” Mr. Kitto said.

Mr. Kitto’s wife, Marietta, and son, Braedon, also are in the show. Mr. Kitto appears in a cameo with his wife and son in act two, near the end of the play.

It’s that ending of the show, and its message, that appeals to Mr. Kitto.

“Oliver has unending optimism,” he said. “He always knows something is better. I’m kind of like that myself. I know there’s always good in something. Even though there’s bad all around, I remain optimistic that the good will prevail. It’s great to see it played out.”

WHAT: “Oliver!” — presented by Watertown Lyric Theater
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and matinees at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington St.
COST: $15 for general admission, $12 for students, senior citizens and members of the military, and $10 for children 10 and under
OF NOTE: The North Country Arts Council will host an opening for its 65th annual Fall Arts Show from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $12. As part of its “arts. beats. eats.,” a bundle price offering a $2 discount for each event on Friday, is available at the Arts Council, 52 Public Square. The art show is from Friday to Nov. 16 at the Dulles State Office Building.
“Arts. beats. eats.” will feature live music, appetizers and a cash bar.
Advance tickets for “Oliver!,” and Friday’s bundle deal are available at North Country Arts Council and at Sherwood Florist in the Watertown Shopping Plaza, 1314 Washington St.
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