By Skyler Gilbert and Joshua B. Milien
There are many interpretations of Fagin, the 19th century British pickpocket gang leader from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. In the novel, the man is depicted as a cold and frugal crook. The Broadway adaptation casts a more amicable, comedic version.
When Nick Massone was assigned the role, director Jordan Hue gave him a lot of freedom for his own interpretation of the character in the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts production.
“Being a father, I took a nurturing approach to the kids, as if they are my own,” Massone said. “I feel bad when I have to snap at them in the show, compared with the other, more light-hearted moments.”
Oliver, a Lionel Bart musical based on the Dickens classic, opened on Saturday night at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts for the beginning of a 32-show run lasting until January 21.
“It was a little draggy but that’s normal,” 14-year-old Andrew Timmins, who plays the Artful Dodger, said of the opening weekend. “It always starts a little bit slow, because we still don’t know fully what we’re doing or what the show’s going to be like.”
There are over eight community theatres on Long Island, Ian Washington of the Smithtown box office staff said. Oliver drew about 200 people each night during the opening weekend. At these community theatres, performances are professional, and actors receive a stipend each night based on the ticket revenue.
In a community theatre setting, many of the same actors are cast in shows again and again. Massone played the titular role in the theatre’s production of Young Frankenstein over the summer.
“In many cases, the cast includes people that we’ve collaborated with before,” Hue said. “Either I, myself, have worked with, or the theatre has worked with… We have a whole lot of our local favorites back in the show.”
Long Island community theatres have to achieve a higher standard than most, due to the proximity to Manhattan, a world leader in musical theatre, Jessica Ader-Ferretti, who has starred in many plays at Smithtown, said.
The play has a larger cast than usual, due to its very long performance season. Most Smithtown productions are five to seven weeks, but Oliver will run over 10 weeks due to the holiday scheduling. Because of this, several understudies and swings had to be cast. More than half of the 32 cast members are under the age of 18, and it creates an infectious energy around the set, some of the adult actors said.
“I hadn’t done a lot of shows with kids, so it was nice to see a different work ethic,” Ader-Ferretti, who splits the role as Nancy, said. “Not that the adults don’t have a strong work ethic, they do, but the kids are just always going.”
Hue, the director, has an educational background and most of his directing experience has come with children. He chuckled and said that some of his exercises, “may have grated on the nerves” of the adult cast members, but some of these actors spoke kindly of his style.
“Some directors try to micromanage, and other directors paint in really broad strokes and allow the individual to do the shading and coloring in,” Massone said. “That’s Jordan. He really gave a lot of liberties.”
Auditions for Oliver were held on July 25, making the show a six-month commitment in all. In the last couple months leading up to opening night, there were plenty of mishaps and gaffes. Ader-Ferretti recalled one incident where Brian Gill, who plays Bill Sikes, accidentally hit her for real during a fight scene.
“He wound up to fake hit me and then he did. Right in the face,” Ader-Ferretti laughed. “That was great.”
Oliver will return this weekend for a Saturday show at 2 p.m., followed by a 3 p.m. performance on Sunday. The show costs $25 for adults and $15 for children under 12.
“All the theatres are well supported, and they support each other,” Massone said. “It would be great to have even more of the surrounding community embrace it. I think that’s starting to happen more.”