Lionel Bart's original musical adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1838 novel "Oliver Twist" had its premiere at the London Palladium in 1960 and was an immediate hit. After it moved to Broadway three years later, "Oliver!" became the longest-running British musical of the day.
And since then, fueled by fabulous songs such as "Food, Glorious Food" and "Consider Yourself," it has been performed in a gazillion community theaters and school auditoriums.
But this new touring production, based on uber-producer Cameron Mackintosh's 1994 revival, is a grand-scale version that goes far beyond what smaller theater groups can manage. Making its Wolf Trap debut, "Oliver!" stars Mark McCracken as Fagin, Renata Renee Wilson as Nancy, Ryan Tutton as Oliver and Andrew Blau as the Artful Dodger, and brings Fairfax County's own Forrest Hedden back home to play a variety of roles.
Speaking on the phone from a vacation cabin in the Poconos, on a brief break before the Wolf Trap run begins, Hedden explained that his family moved to Northern Virginia when he was in sixth grade.
He was in the first class to graduate from South Lakes High School in Reston and studied at James Madison University, with a summer session at George Mason University, before moving to New York about 10 years ago to pursue his career as "an actor who sings."
The self-described "comic character actor" has appeared in national tours of "Anything Goes," "Man of La Mancha" and "Kiss Me, Kate" as well as in off-Broadway and regional shows. Hedden originally auditioned for the role of Fagin, the charming villain who trains orphans to be pickpockets, but the director opted for an older-looking actor to take the part. Still, Hedden gets a chance to shine in six onstage roles -- including Mr. Sowerberry, a funeral director who buys young Oliver, and Mr. Brownlow, the boy's grandfather and eventual guardian.
"Almost all of the actors, with the exception of the three adult main actors, play a variety of characters," Hedden said. The cast still numbers 40, including 17 children. Along with the players, 14 chaperons and two tutors travel full time with the company, which also includes a dog and an animal trainer.
Though it seems like a recipe for backstage chaos, Hedden said that everything generally runs quite smoothly. The group travels with its own wig and wardrobe people, and each venue provides "a vast army of people to help backstage. And 'Oliver!' is written in such a way that you usually have an entire scene or song to change from one costume to the next."
Hedden calls this production "gigantic and absolutely, stunningly beautiful." Having had a few chances to fill in as Fagin during previous stops, Hedden said he "would love to have the chance to go on at Wolf Trap. That would be a dream come true." And a chance to pay tribute to a recently retired teacher named Janet Lunsford, who was at South Lakes when Hedden was there.
"I would not have had the gumption, the wherewithal or even the desire to dream that I could do this if it hadn't been for my high school choir teacher in the Fairfax County school system," Hedden said. "I really encourage parents to support the arts in our schools."
-- MARIANNE MEYER
Wolf Trap is at 1551 Trap Rd. Tickets range from $34 to $60 for reserved in-house seating and $18 for general admission to the lawn. Tickets can be purchased at the box office; by calling Tickets.com at 703-218-6500; or online at www.wolftrap.org. For more information, call 703-255-1860.
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