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A Victorian twist: Landmark Musicals stages ‘Oliver!’ at UNM’s Rodey Theatre

Landmark Musicals is staging the Tony Award-winning “Oliver” beginning Saturday, March 14, at Rodey Theatre. (Courtesy of Landmark Musicals)

It’s been an exciting time for Zane Barker lately.

Sure, there’s stress that comes from being in the director’s chair of the coming musical “Oliver!”

But he takes it in stride.

“I love working with kids, and we’ve got a really rambunctious group of them,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s a little bit of a challenge to keep them focused. But they are good.”

Albuquerque-based Landmark Musicals is staging the Tony Award-winning musical beginning Saturday, March 14. It will be housed at Rodey Theatre on the University of New Mexico campus and will run through March 29.

In the musical, the streets of Victorian England come to life as Oliver, a malnourished orphan in a workhouse, becomes the neglected apprentice of an undertaker.

Oliver escapes to London and finds acceptance among petty thieves and pickpockets led by Fagin.

When Oliver is captured for a theft that he did not commit, the benevolent victim takes him in.

Fagin employs the sinister Bill Sykes to kidnap him back.

The music and lyrics are written by Lionel Bart, and the story is based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” Bart won a Tony for best original score in 1963.

Barker’s production will stick closely to the musical’s roots.

“There are so many different levels to this story,” Barker says. “At times, it plays like a farce. At the end of the show, it gets dramatic. That’s the fun, to blend the shocking reality of these lives, especially during the first act.”

Barker has a cast of 44 – ranging in age from 5 to at least 70.

There is also a full orchestra performing during the musical.

“We’ve also double-cast three parts in the show,” he says. “We’ve had to do this because there are conflicts with performance dates. We need to have extra folks in those roles, but it eats up a lot of rehearsal time.”

Barker has been involved in theater since he was 5 years old.

He also performed locally while growing up.

“What keeps me coming back to community theater is that you end up with a wide range of acting and ability levels,” he says. “We have some folks who have done professional theater, and there are some folks that are onstage for the first time. It’s quite diverse, and that creates a welcoming challenge.”

Starring as Fagin is Gary Bearly, who played the role in the “Oliver!” production for the former Albuquerque Civic Light Opera in 1996. The music director is Darby Fegan. Choreography is by Louis and Courtney Giannini, and production design is by Dahl Delu.

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