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Elijah Rayman as Oliver with Gavin Swartz as The Artful Dodger in Oliver! (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )
Gavin Swartz as The Artful Dodger with Elijah Rayman as Oliver and Donald Corren as Fagin in Oliver! (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )
Donald Corren as Fagin and Elijah Rayman as Oliver in Oliver! at Goodspeed Musicals. (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )
Elijah Rayman as Oliver with Donald Corren as Fagin in Oliver! (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed Musicals )
Donald Corren as Fagin with Elijah Rayman as Oliver, in Oliver! at Goodspeed Musicals East Haddam. (Photo courtesy of Goodspeed )
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Call it the Annie for boys, a musical that centers on the adventures of a young, British orphan, who finds a surrogate family with other misplaced youths, who then battles adversity and conniving adults, in his search for a loving and true home.
It’s Oliver!, Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical based on Charles Dickens’ classic mid-19th century novel.
Goodspeed Musicals is reviving the musical, whose film version received the Oscar for best picture of 1968, at its East Haddam theater. The show, directed by TheaterWorks’ Rob Ruggiero, is now in previews, will open Wednesday, July 18 and continue through Saturday, Sept. 8. The show is noted for its melodic score that includes the songs “Where Is Love?,” “Food! Glorious Food!” and “As Long As He Needs Me.”
It’s the first time Goodspeed has produced the boy-centered show in an era that often looks to the girls for its musical inspiration in shows such as Matilda, Mean Girls, Anastasia, Wicked, Legally Blonde, and Frozen.
But there’s a casting twist for this Goodspeed revival: The homeless kids who make up Fagin’s gang of pickpockets include girls as well as boys. (Indeed they outnumber the boys—but note that they are played as girls, not girls-dressed-as-boys.)
Leading the kid posse under Fagin is the young character known as The Artful Dodger, a boy who is cunning, clever, and charismatic and who takes Oliver under his wing and guides the innocent lad into his new London life on the streets.
For this production, the Dodger is played by Gavin Swartz, a stage veteran of Broadway’s Matilda, as well as in productions of Les Misérables and A Christmas Story: The Musical, among other professional gigs.
‘Make it Real’
“I’m more like Oliver than the Artful Dodger,” says Swartz, 13, of Westwood, Massachusetts. “Well, I’m not quite as nice as Oliver, but not as outgoing as the Dodger.”
Swartz, whose mother is a stay-at-home mom and whose father works for Morgan Stanley, started singing lessons as a very young child and by five was in a production of Beauty and the Beast.
“And I’ve loved it ever since,” he says.
He performed in local shows, but when he was in a professional production of Les Miserables at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts, and surrounded by New York actors, he clearly was inspired. His mother asked him if he was serious about acting and did he want to take on four-hour train rides to New York to audition there?
“She said she didn’t want me to do it unless I really wanted to,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Totally, that would be so fun.’ And I ended up getting a job there which was in Matilda. And I’ve auditioned in New York ever since.”
Earlier this year he heard about Goodspeed’s Oliver!, traveled once again to Manhattan to audition, and tried out for the title role because he had played the part of the sweet innocent in a production in New Hampshire.
But the 4-foot-11, 90-pound Swartz was asked instead to try out for the part of the Artful Dodger. He did well, received a call-back, and was then asked to do a special acting session with Ruggiero at his Hartford theater. After that, he was offered the job.
“Rob’s number one rule: Make it real,” Swartz says. “Don’t make it fake and actor-y.”
The Goodspeed Kids Company
Swartz says he didn’t have to find his inner bad-boy for the role.
“I don’t think he’s too bad as a whole, so I don’t think I have to go too deep,” he says.
Also performing in the show will be members of the inaugural Goodspeed Kids Company, ranging in age from 7 to about 14 years old: EmmaRose Arelt, Gordon Beck, Owen Bryan, Alexa Calegari, Ava Cannan, Logan Erwin, Avital Goldberg-Curran, Lauren Greco, Brendan Harris, Riley Kuever, Ava Loughlin, Meghan Pratt, and Colin Soto.
The kids company is a summer musical program where members receive musical theater training, participate in summer activities, and perform on stage. This year the kids company includes participants from Chester, Ivoryton, Clinton, and Old Saybrook, along with towns from as far away as Westport and Tolland, says Elissa Hale of Goodspeed Musicals.
Hale says the program started in June and will run until the beginning of September, with tuition set up as a weekly fee based on the activities of the week. Those activities, depending on the week, might include workshops or master classes. She says it’s a program they hope to offer in coming years as well.
Performances of Oliver! are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., with select performances at 2 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m., with select performances at 6:30 p.m.
Meet the cast nights are Thursdays, July 26 and Aug. 9 and 23, with a free post-show discussion after the specified Thursday evening performances.
Teen nights are Thursday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, July 13 at 8 p.m. Each adult who buys a regular-priced ticket may purchase a $15 ticket for a teen ages 13 to 18. Guests can meet the cast for autographs after the Friday, July 13 performance.
For students with a valid student ID, $15 tickets are available for any evening performance, beginning at 10 a.m. on the day of the show. .
For more information, call the box office at 860-873- 8668 and visit goodspeed.org for other special events, packages, and last-minute deals.
Editor's Note: This article was changed on Friday, July 13 to correctly spell the last name of Gavin Swartz, and to take out an incorrect reference to his work record.
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