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What the Dickens is going on in Corbett?

Children's theater to present 'Oliver' this weekend
by: photo courtesy of Karen J. Howley William Vincent, left in top hat, plays the Artful Dodger as  J.J. Pen, center, playing Oliver, sings. Katherine Pen as Nancy and Taylor Fahlman as Bill Sikes, on right, listen in Corbett Children Theater’s “Oliver!”

Katherine Pen, 15, says it's difficult enough to act like you might betray someone, so what if that someone is your own brother?

Pen plays Nancy, girlfriend of the abusive burglar Bill Sykes in the famous 1960 musical 'Oliver!' Corbett Children's Theater will present the award-winning show this weekend in the Corbett Schools Multi-Purpose Building.

In the musical, based on Charles Dickens' novel 'Oliver Twist,' Nancy is torn between her maternal love for the orphan boy Oliver and her passion for the brutal, violent Bill who cares mainly for himself. The trio belongs to a gang of pickpockets.

Pen's brother, J.J., 11, plays Oliver, and she says it's hard to pretend she'd even consider ignoring her younger brother's welfare to please a bully. But this is acting.

'I just think of what I would do if I was in this situation,' she says. 'I think of the emotions, and I think of the situation Nancy is in and then I fill in my emotions.'

Pen says this is the biggest role she's ever played, and she was 'kind of nervous at first, but now that we've been rehearsing, I've gotten to know the other cast members, and we've become a family, and I've become more confident.'

She credited Angel Williams, the musical's director, for helping her act her part.

'She's really helped me find my own emotions and how to connect them with Nancy's - in doing that I think I've become more confident in myself doing this role.'

Consider yourself on stage

J.J. Pen said he wanted to play the Artful Dodger at first, and 'was actually fine with any part at all. I just love being in a show.'

However, now that he's the musical main character, he's come to enjoy singing such famous songs as 'Where Is Love?'

'In the workhouse and the atmosphere he's in at that point in the show, he doesn't feel love, and all he wants is someone to love him, someone to take care of him,' J.J. says.

He's also moved by Oliver's generous spirit.

'If they're mean to him or lie to him, he sees the best in people and he just trusts them,' J.J. says.

The jerk

Taylor Fahlman, 17, on the other hand, has the honor of playing Sikes, whom he calls 'kind of a jerk,' though one for whom an audience can have a grain of sympathy.

'He really didn't grow up with any family,' Fahlman says of his character. 'He kind of has this need to prove that he's the best. He's grown into this tyrannical bully to everyone all around.'

Fahlman says it's a difficult role that runs counter to his character.

'I'm generally not a mean person,' the young actor says. 'I try to be nice to everyone around me. It's hard for me to get into a mean spirit for this character.'

However, like Katherine Pen, Fahlman says he's learning to walk a mile in his character's shoes.

'He desperately wants to show everyone that he's the best, and he has no other option to do that except through force,' he says.

Logan McGown, 16, a junior at Corbett High, plays Fagin, the somewhat comical pickpocket who's always tempted to go straight.

'He's good, but he's bad, but he's quirky,' McGown says of his character.

He adds that Fagin gets to act kind of goofy and uses a lot of body movements.

'It's definitely challenging,' McGown says, noting he's taking a heavy load of courses this year and playing euphonium in the school band, so rehearsing can be taxing.

'But I can look back on it and say that was worth it, that was worth the sweat and pain,' he says.

Giving back

Meanwhile, Josh Johnson, 19, a 2010 graduate of Corbett High School, acted in several Corbett plays over the years and is assistant director on 'Oliver.' He says it's quite a change to go from being on stage to helping young actors do the job he's used to doing.

'Once the show starts there's nothing we can do,' he says. 'We have to just hand that over to the actors.'

He's quite confident, however, that the young thespians in 'Oliver!' are up to the task, and adds that he believes the audience will come away the better for having seen the musical.

'Even if their life is really, really crappy, they can say, 'at the end of the day I'm still alive. I can get through this.' '

Oliver

WHAT: Corbett Children's Theater presents 'Oliver'

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Nov. 17-18; 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19; 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20

WHERE: Corbett Schools Multi-Purpose Building, 35800 E. Historic Columbia River Highway

COST: $9 adults, $7 students and seniors

INFO: 503-261-4266, corbettchildrenstheater.com