'Oliver Twist' comes to Sacred Heart School

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Taftville - posted Tue., May. 3, 2011
Oliver (Sydney) wakes to find himself in the home of Mr. Brownlow (Julia, left), tended by Mrs. Bedwin, the maid (Megan) in 'Oliver Twist.' Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Oliver (Sydney) wakes to find himself in the home of Mr. Brownlow (Julia, left), tended by Mrs. Bedwin, the maid (Megan) in 'Oliver Twist.' Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Frilly Victorian dresses, top hats and waistcoats, and frayed, patched rags are a far cry from the usual uniforms at Sacred Heart School in Taftville.

But on April 27, students at the parochial school traded their plaid jumpers and polo shirts for the garb of orphans, street urchins and respectable Londoners in the school’s musical production of “Oliver Twist.”

This adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, penned by Mary Donnelly and George L.O. Strid, wasn’t the famed Broadway version that many people remember, with such tunes as “Consider Yourself,” “Where is Love?” and “Who Will Buy?” Instead, this retelling translated Dickens’ prose into simpler dialogue, while still using songs like “That Boy is Nothing But Trouble” and “Welcome to the Family” to carry the plot along.

Sydney Collins portrayed the hapless orphan boy, Oliver, who runs away from the strict Victorian orphanage run by Mr. Bumble, and from his indentured servitude to an undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. On the streets of London, he’s taken under the wing of the Artful Dodger, a slightly older, street-smart boy who, along with the charming but sinister Fagin, leads a band of child pickpockets.

Oliver’s lucks out when the man whose pocket he’s caught picking, Mr. Brownlow, takes him in and tries to give him the home he never had. But first, Oliver must break free from his street “friends,” including the motherly Nancy and her black-hearted boyfriend, Bill Sikes. Things come to a head when Mr. Browlow tests Oliver’s honesty, inadvertently putting the boy’s life in danger, as Fagin, Dodger and Sikes try to lure him back to the streets.

Language arts teacher Mary-Jo McLaughlin directed the production, which included a cast and crew of two dozen students from grades five through eight. A few of the students played more than one part, filling in the chorus of orphans, street urchins and other denizens of 19th-century London.

“I loved theater,” said McLaughlin. “As a kid in high school, it was my way to shine.” When Sacred Heart added a parish life center – with a stage – to its main school building four years ago, she saw an opportunity to share that love.

“I really believe that drama and the arts are an important way for children to share their God-given gifts,” said McLaughlin. “A lot of kids shine academically. A lot of kids shine on the sports field. But for lots of kids, this is a way to shine.”

This is the school’s fourth musical production, said McLaughlin. Two performances were presented: one for the faculty and student body during the morning, and one for parents, family and friends in the evening.

McLaughlin said that music teacher Alice Crosby helped hone the students’ singing skills with annual Christmas and Easter pageants at the school. She said that the dramatic performance was a true extension of the language arts curriculum.

“I see something on stage that I don’t see in the classroom,” she said. “[Student actors] get to be a different character; they get to come out of themselves. As a teacher, it’s another way of assessing the kids’ ability.”

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