The Youngstown Playhouse presents ‘oliver!’


What: “Oliver!”

Where: The Youngstown Playhouse

When: Weekends April 8-17 (7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays)

Tickets: Call 330-788-8739.

Also: Patrons who bring a nonperishable item to donate to the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley will be entered in a drawing to win a season pass for the 2011-12 season.

By Milan Paurich

Dave and Donny Wolford may be the only father and son acting team on the Youngstown community theater circuit.

In just a few years, the Wolfords — individually and collectively — have accrued an impressive number of credits (including “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” and “Our Town” at the Victorian Players; and “Ragtime” at Top Hat).

Beginning Friday, local audiences will be able to see them together again in Donna Smith Downie’s Youngstown Playhouse production of “Oliver!”

For the Wolfords, it’s a case of d j vu all over again since they co-starred in last summer’s Kent State-Trumbull iteration of the Lionel Bart musical.

In a recent joint interview, Dave and Donny shared their thoughts on all things “Oliver!” and community theater in general.

Q. You both appeared in last summer’s Kent-Trumbull production of “Oliver!” Besides the obvious differences (a new director and castmates; the larger venue), what’s personally different about the experience this time?

Dave: The biggest difference for me is my character. In Kent, I played Bill Sykes; in the Playhouse version, I’m Mr. Bumble (a corrupt official from Oliver’s workhouse/orphanage). The KST show was fun because it was the first time either of us had performed there. We got to work with lots of interesting and talented people, and Dr. Nadon (the Kent director) told me to play Sykes as mean as I could. It was fun taking a character to the limit. The upcoming version is special for both of us, however, because we have so many good friends at the Playhouse, and we feel so at home there. Donna (Smith Downie) has a different vision for the play, and I’m enjoying playing Bumble since she wants his character to have more than one dimension. Plus, he has some great songs as well.

Donny: The Playhouse “Oliver!” feels more “Broadway style” for me. They have an incredible stage, and can add so many different technical elements to a show. I also learned some great vocal techniques from our musical director, Anthony Ruggiero, to help me hit Oliver’s high notes. And I’ve tried to add more depth to my character so that I don’t give the same performance as last time.

Q. Who was bitten by the acting bug first? And what do both of you find so personally gratifying about being on stage?

Dave: Donny definitely was the driving force. At first I just supported him (driving him to rehearsals; helping him with lines; taking him to acting classes; etc.). But then he did a show (“Titanic”) at the Youngstown Playhouse where they needed someone to step in and take over a role. There were several lines and eight or nine songs to be memorized. I was pretty apprehensive at first, but the support of the director (John Holt), the cast and crew was simply amazing. I had a blast doing it, and have been hooked ever since.

Donny: I was maybe 6 or 7, and watching television one day — probably the Oscars or some other awards show — and they were showing clips from the movies and interviewing stars on the red carpet. I said to my parents, “ I want to do that!” After taking an acting class at the Playhouse, my grandmother enrolled me in summer camp at The Butler Art Museum which covered several different areas (music, art, dance and theater). Pat Fagan — the youth director for the Playhouse at the time — got me started; and soon afterwards John Holt cast me in Titanic.” Since then, I’ve done over 20 shows at several area theaters (including Top Hat, the New Castle Playhouse and the Victorian Players). By the way, my dad was being overly modest. When they asked him to take over one of the roles in “Titanic,” it was just four days before we opened!

Q. For readers who only know “Oliver!” from the Oscar-winning 1968 film version, what are some of the primary differences between the movie and stage versions?

Dave: The movie spends more time developing the characters. The stage version uses dialogue to set up — and connect — the show’s big dramatic moments and musical numbers (“Food, Glorious Food”; “Consider Yourself”; “Who Will Buy?”; etc.). Besides being loaded with great theatrical moments, it also moves at a pretty crisp pace which is probably why it’s remained such a popular show over the years.

Donny: And the movie version doesn’t have, “ I Shall Scream,” the song where Widow Corney flirts with Mr. Bumble.

Q. Who else is appearing in the YP production with you? And just how large a cast will be sharing the Playhouse’s main stage?

Donny: I’m really excited to be working with such an amazing cast. David Jendre is playing Fagin; Brandy Johanntges is Nancy; Wyatt Nolker plays the Artful Dodger; Dan Lancy is Bill Sykes; Starr E. McClure plays Widow Corney; and that’s just for starters. There are about 55 people in the show altogether.

Q. What do you have to say to Dickens purists who have always knocked “Oliver!” as a vulgarization of Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”?

Dave: There’s a script for a nonmusical version of “Oliver Twist” that I think could possibly make a strong production since it’s based on such a great story. But Lionel Bart, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for “Oliver!” was brilliant enough to see the potential of the story AS a musical. If Dickens were alive today, he’d recognize that his themes are still very much intact. And maybe even sing along to “Pick a Pocket or Two.”

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