As a theatre buff, Linus Hand loves everything about the musical Oliver!
As a theatre producer, it’s a nightmare.
It is one of the plum roles for a young boy to play, but as Hand has known for years, young male performers are hard to come by. At least ones that can act, sing and carry an entire show before they’ve even graduated elementary school.
“Let’s put it this way – I have a drama academy with 100 kids … and six boys,” he says.
“As it stands, if I cast it with who I have right now, there’d be kids wondering ‘Why is Oliver in a girl’s orphanage?’”
The classic musical, based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, requires at least 20 young boys to play the starving workhouse orphans and one lead to play the feisty Oliver Twist, who eventually falls under the sway of a villain teaching kids how to be pickpockets. The original Broadway production won three Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, and the 1968 film based on the musical won six Oscars, including Best Picture.
Hand will actually need about 30 boys for an upcoming Niagara Falls production to ease the workload for kids still in school. He’s starting to realize there will be a lot of girls playing boys in the show, possibly even Oliver himself.
“There’s no question we will have to,” he says. “Chances are, Oliver will be a girl.”
Every December, Hand brings a professional equity production to the Scotiabank Convention Centre. He thought he had a wealth of talent to draw from after the last two shows – Annie and Peter Pan – but he quickly realized the best actors have moved onto other shows, and the rest are simply too old.
“I’ve had a group of kids perform in all (my) shows going back to Suessical and Beauty and the Beast (in 2008),” he says. “Now they’re all grown. There were kids I had penciled in thinking ‘That kid might be a good Artful Dodger,’ and the kid comes in and looks like he’s 18 years old.”
Hand prefers casting local, but has gone as far as Buffalo and Hamilton to fill roles. The search may go wider to find his Oliver.
“There’s just not that many guys in musical theatre. There’s a lot more women. And it starts off early, obviously.”
By John Law, Niagara Falls Review