WINDHAM — While the classic musical “Oliver!” presents some rather dysfunctional family interactions, this local cast’s experience is all about family fun.
The Windham Actors Guild’s production of “Oliver!” will debut on the high school stage, with a number of area families performing together in the cast.
Eight-year-old Jake Joyce has the show’s starring role, with his sister portraying Charlotte. Keith Strang — whose wife, Colleen, is the show’s producer and daughter, Lillian, acts as a member of Fagin’s gang — stars as the abusive Bill Sikes.
“Oliver!” is Strang’s third show with the local theatre troupe, he previously starred in “The Music Man” and “Godspell.”
But he said his current role of Bill has perhaps proven his most challenging one yet.
“He’s innately evil, just completely psychotic,” Strang said during a recent rehearsal. “It can be troubling at times because you spend so much time getting into your character and there are always lines you never want to cross.”
Strang, a computer engineer by day, previously acted in high school but hadn’t done much theater as an adult until about five years ago, when Lillian wanted to audition for a role in a local production of “Annie.”
Father and daughter both landed roles in that show and since then, Strang said, “It’s been pretty difficult not to keep acting.”
Fellow Windham resident Melissa Runde stars opposite Strang as his victimized love interest, Nancy.
Runde, who once sang in a local band and has also appeared in previous community theater productions, will appear onstage with her 9-year-old twins Jack and Logan, both portraying young orphans.
“They’re loving this,” she said. “I definitely pushed them to try it out because they’re both so sporty and I really wanted them to try something new.”
The experience has also given the family the perfect opportunity to learn about fantasy versus reality.
“Since I play an abused woman, at first I was pretty worried that it would be upsetting for the boys to see,” Runde said. “But they’re learning all about stage combat and what goes into it. They understand it’s not real.”
Irene Cohen, who dances and sings solo in the show, stars alongside her son, Sam, who plays the role of Noah.
“It’s definitely a unique aspect of this particular show,” Cohen said. “It’s something you don’t see happening very often.”
Based on the 1838 Charles Dickens novel, “Oliver Twist,” the musical features such familiar tunes as “Food, Glorious Food” and “Consider Yourself.”
Director Deb Lund said she’s worked hard to stay true to the original story, which Dickens wrote at age 25 to protest the treatment of children in Victorian-era England.
“We’re not rewriting anything,” Lund said. “We’re presenting the show in a way that’s very true to Dickens’ intentions.”
The show is not recommended for audience members under age 8 because of violent scenes.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors.
Evening performances on Friday and Saturday, April 4-5, are at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday, April 6, matinee at 2 p.m.
For more information or to reserve tickets, call 247-8634 or visit www.ticketstage.com/T/WAG.