Fagin, The Artful Dodger and a clutch of other colorful characters created by Charles Dickens are set to take the stage in downtown Bakersfield.
"Oliver!" directed by Brian Sivesind, opens Friday evening for a 12-performance run at Stars.
"I've pushed the idea that these are characters, not caricatures," the director said. "It's tough to flesh out iconic characters in musicals, but I'm hoping we do the roles justice."
A 10-year-old newcomer named Anthony Bacon has the role of Oliver, the orphan boy condemned to a workhouse in 19th century England until he escapes and walks the streets of London before finding himself hooked up with a gang of pickpockets. Ultimately, Oliver leads a happier life but many of the characters don't fare quite so well.
Brent Rochon, who also did the choreography, portrays Fagin. Bethany Rowlee, who has starred in a number of roles for Stars and Bakersfield Music Theatre, has the role of Nancy, and Ken Burdick is back on the Stars stage as Bill Sykes. Mickey Farley is cast as Mr. Bumble; the mean headmaster; Julie Gaines as Widow Corney; and another newcomer, Eliana Quiroz, plays The Artful Dodger. Randy Jelmini, president of the Stars board of directors, has the role of Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker.
Sivesind describes the show as "a huge production, with over 30 cast members," 13 of whom are children.
"It's been quite a beast of a rehearsal process," he said. "There are a number of first- or second-time performers on the Stars stage, which is both exciting and challenging. I'm really hoping to bring them all together into a cohesive unit that does justice to Dickens' story right along with Lionel Bart's musical script."
One thing he's very pleased about is being able to again work with Rochon as well as Stars artistic director Bruce Saathoff and music director Char Gaines. All three were involved with him in the successful production of "The Drowsy Chaperone" in January, which was Sivesind's debut directorial role at Stars.
"They are very welcoming and respectful of my artistic vision," he said, "and appreciate what I can bring to the table."
Sivesind is still very much involved as executive director of The Empty Space, or TES, a position he's held for the past year. In an email message, he said TES "is an extremely strong position" and he sees no conflict in his directing shows at other local theaters.
"There is a wonderfully talented group of dedicated volunteers (we've got 20 board members!) who are holding down the fort while I'm out dallying around," he said. "We've always believed that theater artists should be able to work in other venues, and I'm proud to have that opportunity to lead by example."
Part of that, of course, is the nature of the artistic programs of each organization.
"'Oliver' isn't a show we would ever really consider doing at TES," he said, "and shows like 'Avenue Q' aren't something that Stars is interested in producing, so I really see us as complementary venues."
BCT One-Acts open
Performances of four short plays selected for Bakersfield Community Theatre's annual One-Act Festival begin Friday at the South Chester Avenue playhouse. In past years the festival has been held in June but the 2012 edition was delayed until now for various reasons, said Sheila McClure, BCT's artistic director.
"We've been working a lot on the possibility of moving and making repairs to our current building," she said. "It was just a timing thing."
McClure didn't provide any details. A few months ago, however, she did say that the BCT board was looking for a space nearer to the downtown area.
I haven't seen any rehearsals of the one-acts to be presented but I have read the scripts. All are notable for their brevity and two have casts of five or six actors, somewhat unusual for plays that run 30 minutes or less.
"Russian Roulette" by Mike Bedard is a fast-paced absurdist comedy about four contestants who are playing a deadly game to win an unknown prize. Drew Hallum directs.
"Love Match" is a sprightly comedy that takes place in an upscale restaurant and involves an unexpected mix-up involving six characters. The script is notable for its snappy dialogue. Written by Chuck Smith and Jennifer Hart, it's directed by Eric Tolley.
"The Request," by Ben Lejeune, walks a fine line between fantasy and reality, with a touch of absurdity for good measure. Tolley also directs this one.
"June ... and Other Months," written and directed by Sheila McClure, is set in the coal-mining region of Kentucky. It's a poignant, and occasionally humorous, story about a mother and her adult daughter and the differences between generations.
A word of caution: All four of the plays are recommended for mature audiences.
'Bugsy' and 'Hansel' debut
Tonicism, a youth theater group that operates out of The Empty Space, is presenting the fruits of its young thespians' hard work starting this weekend.
"Bugsy Malone Jr.," a takeoff of the successful 1970s sendup of gangsters that starred Jodie Foster and Scott Baio in its pint-sized cast, premieres at noon Saturday.
More on the musical from the Tonicism website: "Like the film, this wild and wacky musical includes a child's dream come true: a classic pie fight fought with 'splurge blasters,' which spew forth 'silly string' instead of pies! With a catchy, swinging score by the composer of 'The Muppet Movie,' 'Bugsy Malone Jr.' is a fun summer hit with a lot of heart."
"The (Almost) Totally True Story of Hansel & Gretel" premieres at 3 p.m. Saturday.
From the website: "Think you know the story of Hansel and Gretel? Find out what really happened in the deep, dark woods, courtesy of two policemen who are hot on the trail of a couple of conniving criminals who have left a slew of casualties in their wake ... and that they're convinced are none other than those so-called 'harmless' children ... Hansel and Gretel! Set in the world of Nick Tickle Fairytale Detective, this new play by Steph DeFerie is full of surprises!"
Hal Friedman update
My feelings are somewhere between pleased and regretful to learn about Hal Friedman's new job. Bakersfield's loss is New York's gain, I guess. The former general manager and artistic director of the Spotlight Theatre has landed a position as executive director of Rescue Agreement, a nonprofit theater company in New York City.
Friedman and his wife, Abby Friedman, a former Frontier High School teacher who was also active in local theater, and their children moved to the East Coast about four months ago.
"I was interviewing for the (Rescue Agreement) position and a few others during the months leading up to the move," Hal wrote in a recent email. "However, we had planned on moving anyway. Abby had gotten a teaching job in May and I was close to getting the job by June."
Thus far, things seem to be going well.
"New York is great. For me it is a homecoming," he said. "As for Abby, she loves the whole excitement of it -- the kids seem to love it too. Always wide-eyed and enjoying the sights. It's an adjustment but a very fun adventure."
Rescue Agreement, he explained, is a long-term theater in residency with Cap 21 for their co-production of a new play called "Recount." The company has done five shows during the past two years. Three others, one of which is a musical, are in the planning stage.
As a nonprofit organization, it's funded by donations, corporate sponsors and its co-producing agreement with Cap 21, an acronym for Collaborative Arts Project 21.
In September, Abby will start teaching at Innovate, a middle-grade charter school in Manhattan.
In addition to his other duties, Hal is teaching a course in film directing and screenwriting at the New York Film Academy.