Oliver with a Twist

By Beacon Staff

In an era of rapidly changing technology and new forms of media at every turn, it’s sometimes good to stop and think about what’s really important in life. Concepts like love, human connection and belonging.

That’s the message director Rebecca Schaffer wants to portray to her audience starting on Dec. 5 when Whitefish Theatre Company presents “Oliver!” at the O’Shaughnessy Center. Since early October, Schaffer and her cast of 37 actors have been perfecting lines and finishing sets for their rendition of the classic musical by Lionel Bart, based on Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel, “Oliver Twist.” But this time the iconic tale is being told with a twist: The cast and set will be decked out in the steampunk motif.

“I want to take a story that people know and make it so they are experiencing it for the first time,” said Schaffer, a Missoula-based actor and director who graduated from the University of Montana master of fine arts in 2013.

Steampunk is a genre of science fiction based around steam-powered and industrial machinery. Fans of the genre often wear metal-like clothing that features gears and pipes. While the genre has been around for decades, it’s only reached the mainstream during the last few years.

Schaffer first got the idea to do a steampunk show when she saw a production of Cinderella in Philadelphia that used the same concept. Schaffer said the sets and costumes of this version of Oliver! are what make the show special.

“I want to push things as far as they go, especially with the set and costumes,” she said. “I want to take the audience on a journey of surprises.”

In Dickens’ tale, Oliver is a young orphan in 1830s England who runs away to London. Schaffer said it’s a “timeless story about our need for connection, love and belonging in the face of the rat race for money and power.”

In this version of Oliver! the young scamp is played by 10-year-old Jane Trina. Trina began acting in the first grade in the Alpine Theatre Project and has mostly had secondary roles. She said being cast as the lead was a shock but she is excited about the opportunity.

“I really like hanging out with everyone and expressing myself,” she said. “I’m getting nervous because I’ve only been in big groups (on stage), but now I’ll be on my own. It’s going to be hard.”

The cast is led by Jane Trina, third from the left, who plays Oliver, an orphan in 1830s London. | Contributed photo

Mickey Winn, 23, plays The Artful Dodger. He grew up in Denver and did some acting as a kid, but stopped in high school. Ironically, when he was 11 years old, he was the backup actor for the same character he is playing now.

“It is chock full of nostalgia,” he said. “It’s really fun to see all of the kids doing what I did when I was 12 years old. It’s like looking into the past.”

Among the young actors on stage is Maggie Eisenbarth’s son, Trey, who plays an orphan. Eisenbarth, 38, is a mother of seven and came from an artistic family. She did a little acting in high school and decided to return to the craft in 2005 with the Whitefish Theatre. She said acting gives her an opportunity to do something different and she is excited about presenting the steampunk version of Oliver! and hopes that audiences welcome the subtle changes.

“I think it’s a push to the edge, but it doesn’t take it over the edge,” she said. “It’s not like a punk version of the ‘Sound of Music.’ Steampunk makes sense for Oliver!”

Oliver! is appropriate for all ages and kicks off Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the O’Shaughnessy Center. It plays on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the next three weekends. The Sunday shows start at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $8 for students.

For more information, visit www.whitefishtheatreco.com.