by Liz Humphries ’05
As I walked through the doors of the McPherson Playhouse on the opening night of Oliver! happy memories of excited nervousness and endless possibility flooded my mind. The McPherson might as well be a part of SMUS for the number of students that have been lucky enough to perform on its stage. The last time I performed at the Mac was 2005 in my last SMUS musical – Les Misérables. My experiences as a student at SMUS led me to Acadia University to study musical theatre and opera, where I completed a bachelor of music in 2009, and today I continue to perform regularly with companies such as Pacific Opera Victoria.
Since my return to Victoria, I have found the SMUS productions irresistible to attend, because my involvement with past productions was the most profound and important learning that occurred in my high-school life. As current SMUS students look back on the memories created during the school musicals, I’m sure they will feel a similar fondness and nostalgia for these experiences that will never be repeated. For me, sitting in the audience for the Middle School’s production of Oliver! was not only nostalgic and novel, but more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
Lionel Bart’s musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, Oliver Twist, is one of the musical theatre repertory’s most beloved and commonly performed pieces in schools. Oliver! is a show filled with toe-tapping tunes and larger-than-life characters.
The Middle School’s production of this cherished musical was also larger than life. From Duncan Frater’s tight and robust musical direction, Douglas Manson-Blair’s seamless and lively staging, Arabella Martin’s fluid and effective choreography, and of course, the performing, playing, and behind-the scenes work of more than 160 Middle School students, the show was a triumph. The fact that there was such an immense number of eager and willing young adults pouring their life into musical theatre shows us all that there is, indeed, good in the world! If the audience’s reaction on opening night was any indication, the students’ performance went straight to the heart.
The chorus members who made up the group of orphans started the show off with a bang with the famous “Food Glorious Food.” This opening immediately informed me that this was going to be the best production of Oliver! I’ve ever seen. The students’ commitment shone through in their fearless singing and dancing from the moment the curtain went up. Ajay Parikh-Friese’s portrayal of the title character, Oliver, must be mentioned as a truly spectacular performance that will be remembered for a long time.
There were so many strong performances by the lead characters and chorus members, including an impressive dance-core. The chorus numbers were exciting to watch and listen to, with polished choreography, passionate singing, and joy splayed across the faces of the students. Crowd favourites included “Consider Yourself,” “Be Back Soon,” “Who Will Buy,” and “Oom- Pa-Pa.” The show didn’t drop energy for a second as the scenes moved by with speed and efficiency. The audience was, no doubt, wanting more when the curtain came down at the bittersweet ending of Oliver! It is inspiring to see such commitment to theatre at a young age, and so exciting to see the next crop of SMUS performing artists in the making!
Congratulations to the Middle School for putting on such a top-rate production. Bravi Tutti!
Liz Humphries ’05 is an alumnus and a boarding staff member in Winslow House.
Visit the Photo Gallery for more images from Oliver!