BENTON The Royal Players will present Oliver! on Thursday through Dec. 10 at The Royal Theatre, 111 S. Market St. in Benton.
Presenting sponsors are the Jeff Mattingly Foundation and First Security Bank. The local production is presented through a special arrangement with Music Theatre International.
The book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart are based on Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist.
Set in Victorian England, the musical tells the story of Oliver, a malnourished orphan in a workhouse who becomes the neglected apprentice of an undertaker. Oliver escapes to London and finds acceptance in a group of petty thieves and pickpockets led by the elderly Fagin. When Oliver is captured for a theft he did not commit, the benevolent victim, Mr. Brownlow, takes Oliver in. Fearing the safety of his hideout, Fagin employs the sinister Bill Sikes and the sympathetic Nancy to kidnap Oliver again, threatening Oliver’s chances of discovering the true love of a family.
Among the songs in the musical are “As Long as He Needs Me,” “Where Is Love?” and “Food, Glorious Food.”
The local production of Oliver! is under the direction of Michael Bartholmey of North Little Rock.
Bartholmey has appeared in several productions at The Royal Theatre, including Oklahoma!, The Music Man and It’s a Wonderful Life. He also directed the Young Players’ production of Backstage in 2015.
“This is the first musical I have directed,” said Bartholmey, who has a degree in theater from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “And this is the first time I have directed a show that has both adults and kids in it. The cast is about half and half — kids and adults.
“Directing this many people has been challenging,” he said, smiling. Bartholmey has also directed plays with Saline County Shakes, which he co-founded several years ago.
“Oliver! is my favorite musical,” he said. “It has been since I was a kid and saw it as a movie.
“It’s not exactly a Christmas show, but it is a good one for the family,” he said. “Plus, it’s a story by Charles Dickens, and everyone loves Dickens, especially his classic A Christmas Carol.”
Matthew Glover of Benton is the music director for the local production, along with Anna Bowman of Bryant, choreographer; Michelle Griffis of Bauxite, stage manager; and Charlotte Hammonds and Carissa A. Lumpkins, both of Benton, producers.
Appearing as principal characters are the following:
• Hayden Woods of Malvern portrays Oliver Twist, a young boy born in a workhouse.
Woods, the 15-year-old son of Kelli Hernandez and Steve Woods, is making his first appearance with The Royal Players. He attends Malvern High School and has acted with other companies, including the Pocket Community Theatre in Hot Springs. He said he was familiar with the movie version of Oliver! and is enjoying playing the lead character in the Royal Players’ presentation of the musical.
• Melody Small of Little Rock appears as The Artful Dodger, a young orphan boy taken in by Fagin, a retired thief, and taught to become a thief.
Small, the 12-year-old daughter of Jeff and Lee Ann Small, appeared in the Young Players’ production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. She said she is having fun playing The Artful Dodger, a character who is usually portrayed by a young boy. Small attends Baptist Preparatory School in Little Rock.
• Mark Troillett of Little Rock portrays Fagin, a charming career criminal who takes in homeless boys and trains them to be pickpockets.
“Fagin has been a dream role of mine since my older sister choreographed the show when she was in high school,” said Troillett, who was born with a hereditary kidney disease that progressed so far in the past few years that he had to take disability retirement as a certified public accountant with the state of Arkansas because of the disease. “The opportunity to play [the role] is not only a dream come true, but it has given me an opportunity to become more active and help me meet the conditions I need to meet to receive a kidney.
“I love doing theater, and I am overjoyed that I feel well enough to do this show.”
Troillett said some of his health complications “have been mitigated” since he has become more active, and a kidney transplant now seems possible. His brother, Danny, who was not affected by the hereditary kidney disease, has offered Mark one of his kidneys.
Mark Troillett said he feels he has a new lease on life.
“Some rehearsals have been a little difficult, as I still constantly deal with fatigue, nausea and other effects from having no kidneys, but the overall change for the good has been amazing,” Troillett said. “When I get on the stage and become Fagin, all those symptoms seem to fade away. Thanks to live theater and Oliver! (and, of course, my brother, Danny), I may just get the best Christmas present I can imagine — a new kidney.”
Troillett directed The Music Man at The Royal Theatre in 2015 and appeared in Dearly Beloved in 2013.
• Paige Carpenter of Lonsdale plays Nancy, a former child pickpocket in Fagin’s gang and Bill Sikes’ girlfriend.
Carpenter is a 2002 graduate of Benton High School and a 2006 graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English literature. She has appeared in previous productions at The Royal Theatre and now works at the Arkansas Arts Center, where she builds sets and has appeared in productions with the Children’s Theatre.
“I couldn’t pass up the chance to play the part of Nancy,” Carpenter said. “I think it is one of the best characters in all of Dickens’ works.”
• Tim Huddleston of Bryant plays Bill Sikes, a professional burglar and a former student of Fagin.
“I have read several character studies about Bill Sikes, and he has the singular distinction of being a Dickens character with no redeeming value,” Huddleston said. “I am enjoying the challenge of playing the villain. Bill’s outlook and mine differ so much. … His view of the world is what is in it for me … period, where I see value in helping and teaching others.”
Huddleston, who is a sales/designer for a conveyor company, has worked with the crew on sound and lighting for several productions at The Royal, including It’s a Wonderful Life, The Miracle Worker and The Lion King Jr.
“I played Muff Potter in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer earlier this year,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience. The cast was so talented, and that environment made me better than I would have ever been on my own.”
Appearing in featured roles are the following:
• Rylee Bolls of Bryant plays Bet, one of Fagin’s former pickpockets and a friend of Nancy’s.
• Robert Minton of Benton portrays Mr. Bumble, the town “beadle,” or petty officer, who runs the workhouse.
• Susan Thomey of Little Rock appears as the Widow Corney, the matron at the workhouse where Oliver Twist is born.
• Eric McCallister of Benton plays Mr. Brownlow, who becomes orphan Oliver’s protector.
• Joshua Grandon of Benton portrays Mr. Sowerberry, the town undertaker to whom Oliver is apprenticed.
• Mollie Richey of Benton plays Mrs. Sowerberry, Mr. Sowerberry’s mean-spirited wife.
• Izzy Hammonds of Benton appears as Charlotte, the rude daughter of the Sowerberrys who runs the workhouse.
• Will Porter of Little Rock plays Noah Claypoole, who is apprenticed to Mr. Sowerberry.
• Jamie Partain of Benton portrays Mrs. Bedwin, who is Mr. Brownlow’s housekeeper.
• Zachary Glover of Benton plays Charley Bates, a boy in Fagin’s establishment.
• Debbie Wright of North Little Rock plays Sally, who was the nurse at Oliver’s birth in the workhouse.
Members of the ensemble include David Burlison of Malvern; Amber Threlkeld, DJ Pelle and Katie McCallister, all of Benton; April Bartholmey of North Little Rock; Katrina Lilly, Lauren Redmond and Hayden Griffis, all of Bauxite; Noah Lee of Haskell; and Tapp Langley and Grace Moody, both of Little Rock.
Members of Fagin’s Gang include John Isaac Small of Little Rock; Maverick Burlison of Malvern; Seth Nuss and Boston Davis, both of Bauxite; Addison Lumpkins, Harper Keith, Abby Jones and Braden Lisowe, all of Benton; Berkeley Courtney-Moore of Little Rock; and Madison Coldiron of East End.
Show times are at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and again Dec. 7, 8 and 9; and at 2 p.m. Dec. 3 and Dec. 10.
General admission tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for senior citizens, members of the military and college students; and $6 for students of high school age and younger.
Tickets are available online at theroyalplayers.ticketleap.com. Reservations can be made by calling (501) 315-5483.
For more information, visit theroyalplayers.com.