By Jesse Scott of the Fredericksburg Freelance-Star
For the veteran theatre professors, the 300-plus mile journey from Bluefield College to Fredericksburg to work with nearly 100 young actors has been worth each and every tick of the odometer.
In 2011, Reese and McCoy-Reese signed on with the Christian Youth Theater’s Fredericksburg affiliate to direct a theatrical production. This Friday, March 2, the directors’ vision of a cherished English tale will hit the stage.
“Oliver!” the story of a young, British orphan, who stays virtuous amid poverty and oppression, débuts March 2 at 7 p.m. at Spotsylvania High School near Fredericksburg. The production will run through Sunday, March 4 and will also show Friday, March 9 through Sunday, March 11.
“We’ve worked with large casts before, but this cast is truly special,” said McCoy–Reese, co-director of “Oliver!” and assistant theatre professor at Bluefield College. “These kids bring a certain energy, a certain freshness to the show and [my husband, Charles, and I] have had so much fun with them.”
Christian Youth Theater is a national, after-school theatrical arts training program serving children ages four through 18. In 2008, CYT formed a Fredericksburg affiliate and has since hosted a number of acting, voice and dance workshops at schools throughout the region. CYT serves a range of actors, from novices to budding theater majors. Those students participating in CYT workshops have the opportunity to audition for CYT’s shows.
In its four years in the Fredericksburg region, CYT has generated a number of high-quality productions, including “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Seussical” and “The Sound of Music.” Its latest musical is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famed book, “Oliver Twist.”
The plot centers around sweet, innocent Oliver in 1850s London. Oliver bounces around from a workhouse to a home before getting involved with a pickpocketing gang. Amid mistreatment and troublemakers, Oliver ultimately finds a way to survive and stay honorable. Needless to say, “Oliver!” is not your typical bubbly kids’ production. It’s dark, deep and mysterious — just what you would expect from Dickens.
“It speaks to so many of us,” said McCoy–Reese. “None of our lives are 100 percent roses and sunshine. We all have dark moments and come into contact with dark people. Life is about finding love and finding lasting relationships. Sometimes we have to get through the selfish and brutish relationships to find that love.”
The CYT cast of 94 actors shines while portraying Dickens’ rich characters. From the crafty Artful Dodger (Oliver’s friend who convinces him to start pickpocketing) to Bill Sykes (an angry, abusive murderer), the actors nail their roles with poise and professionalism. At some points, it’s hard to remember that no one in the cast is out of high school yet.
Christian Barham, a senior at Fredericksburg Christian High School, plays Mr. Bumble, the pompous church official who manages the workhouse where Oliver is born. Barham has been in a number of CYT productions over the years. After he graduates from FCHS, he’ll attend Bluefield College and continue working with Reese and McCoy-Reese.
“The hardest part about [“Oliver!”] has been the Cockney accent,” laughed Barham. “Our [directors] always make jokes that I’m going in between Jamaican, Irish and Cockney. But, by show time I will definitely have it down.”
Samuel Elton, a homeschooled senior in Culpeper, Virginia, is also a CYT vet. He has been in 10 CYT shows over the years. He plays Fagin, a criminal that preys on the orphaned children and teaches them how to pick pockets.
“[Fagin] is a true comical villain,” said Elton. “Our directors have really helped me better understand him. [“Oliver!”] really is a great story, a classic with so many characters, and it’s a great way to see what CYT is all about.”
Once “Oliver!” closes its curtains, Reese and McCoy–Reese — who direct a similar youth theatre program in Bluefield — will return to the BC campus, and CYT will keep training the actors of tomorrow. Until then, Reese said everyone in Greater Fredericksburg should plan to come out and catch the show.
“It’s been worth the ride from Bluefield to Fredericksburg for us for 10 weeks,” laughed Reese. “So it’s absolutely worth the ride to Spotsylvania High School from Fredericksburg, Stafford and surrounding counties.”
“Oliver!” presented by Christian Youth Theater–Fredericksburg
Spotsylvania High School, 6975 Courthouse Road, Spotsylvania
Friday, March 2 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 3 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 4 at 3 p.m.; Friday, March 9 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 10 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 11 at 3 p.m.
$13 online; $15 at the door; $11 group discount (10-ticket minimum)
540-604-5156 or www.cytfredericksburg.org