Presenting Oliver! ...with a twist
Playhouse Theatre Company
Date: Nov. 17 - Dec. 15
Time: 8 p.m.
2 p.m. matinees
Venue: Vancouver Playhouse
Hamilton at Dunsmuir
Twenty-two orphans and pick-pockets have taken over Scott Augustine’s world during the past couple of weeks.
Still, the choreographer of the Playhouse Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Oliver! considers himself — well in.
Augustine, a 1998 graduate of Langley Fine Arts School was happy to take on the challenge of designing the nine musical dance numbers that make up the famous story, adapted from Charles Dickens’ classic 1838 novel, Oliver Twist.
“It was a bit overwhelming at first,” Augustine admitted.
“I sat with (director) Michael (Shamata) and talked about the scenes and how they would flow. From there, I let my creative side take over.”
First performed in 1960, the musical tells the story of an orphan who flees the work houses of Victorian England only to fall in with a gang of London street urchins and be recruited as a pickpocket for the evil Fagin.
“It is a grand scale. It’s one of the biggest projects I’ve been involved in,” said Augustine over the phone, during a break in rehearsals with the young cast that has kept him on his toes for the past 17 days.
With a large cast of boys, ranging in age from eight to 12 years old, getting the concentration level where he wants it occasionally presents a bit of a challenge.
But, he said, “Once we get it there, it’s there.”
Though perhaps not all dancers to start out, the youthful cast is comprised of natural movers, said Augustine, whose own main style of dance is contemporary.
Many of the boys have backgrounds in tap, jazz, other musical theatre — even yoga — all of which has helped.
“All of them have an awareness of movement. Nobody has two left feet.”
Despite this being his first shot at choreographing a large musical theatre production, Augustine opted not to take the safe, well-trodden route with Oliver!
Traditionally, the production’s musical numbers have been presented in a very upbeat way — one that is not really in keeping with the tone of the story, he explained.
“This is driven from somewhere darker, sadder.
“We’re taking a whole different approach — trying to convey more of the darker side of the story.”
“The (musical) numbers are about powerful and important subject matter. I tried to find different ways of moving in the different numbers.”
With Oom Pah Pah (sung by the character Nancy), for example, Augustine strove for a heavier style of movement.
“It’s a little bit dingy and aggressive.”
His continuing challenge was to convey the appropriate tone through the play’s numerous song and dance numbers, in order to ensure that the audience is never jarred out of its collective reverie.
“When you choreograph for a musical, it’s important to stay within the scene.
“If someone is all of a sudden dancing, it has to make sense,” he said.
“It has to flow through so that the audience doesn’t all of a sudden say ‘Oh, they’re dancing now.’”
Augustine, who grew up in Maple Ridge and majored in dance at LFAS, has a number of theatre credits to his name, including roles in Hello Dolly and Fiddler on the Roof for the Vancouver Playhouse as well as Funny Girl and Beauty and the Beast for the Arts Club Theatre.
He’s also danced in a handful of feature films.
“About one and a half years ago a few movie musicals came to town and I got involved in that,” said Augustine, whose film credits include 2005’s Once Upon a Mattress and Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical, part of which was filmed in Fort Langley, as well as 2006’s Totally Awesome, a spoof of ‘80s brat pack-style films, which starred Chris Kattan of Saturday Night Live fame.
Oliver! takes the stage with preview performances on Nov. 17, 19 and 21. The show opens on Nov. 22 and runs to mid December.
“It’s coming close,” said the choreographer. “It’s crunch time. Now it’s a matter of tinkering with scenes and just layering them with other ideas.”