As an English major, it's probably criminal for me to admit that I've never read Oliver Twist. I've never needed to: Oliver! seems to be one of the most performed musicals of all time if not on Broadway, then certainly by local schools and churches.
Lord knows I've had to sit through numerous performances as my younger siblings each take their turn in what seems like an annual Oliver! production at their school. (Last year's rendition did thrill when a particularly charismatic 10-year-old delivered the "Shut up and drink your gin!" line. Classic.)
So if everyone knows the story, how does a director come up with a fresh angle? If you're Clayton Phillips, director of the Broadway in Colorado Springs' season opener, you assemble a small group of actors and give them lots to do.
First, assign each actor multiple roles. The actor playing Fagan also plays the governor, and the woman portraying Nancy doubles as a pauper, something Phillips says gives Oliver! an ensemble feel.
"It moves differently because of that," Phillips says. "All of the actors are part of the scene changes, and it's a fluid interpretation of the piece. Instead of having a scene and a blackout, everything is very liquid and continually moving."
Next, Phillips eliminated elaborate sets.
"Our show is very theatrical ... it has less scenery and the actors have more work to do to create the environment for you," he says.
Lastly, even though he's using the traditional Lionel Bart score, Phillips put a twist on the orchestra. Instead of hiding in the pit, the musicians are onstage. Oh, and several of the characters play in the orchestra, too.
Where Phillips won't take liberties, though, is with the established musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' story.
"One of the great things about Oliver! is that it's not just a piece of fluff," he says. "It's a real piece of literature that we're seeing come to life onstage."