Dowagiac theater program to perform ‘Oliver!’ this weekend

Published 2:20 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

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DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac Union Schools students are preparing for their first musical performance of 2024.

The schools’ musical group will be performing “Oliver!” in the DMS Auditorium at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 cash or check with no reservations.

Based on the Charles Dickens novel, the story follows a trusting young orphan named Oliver Twist who dreams of finding where he truly belongs. The performance will be directed by Ryan Murray, a member of the Beckwith Theatre Company Board. Murray, who served as a member of the Dowagiac Police Department for 10 years and was a longtime student resource officer in the district, is enjoying his first stint in the district’s director’s chair.

“I already knew a lot of the students through being an SRO but it’s fun getting to know the rest of them,” he said.

Murray thanked volunteers including the pit orchestra, DUS Band Director Denzel Johnson for directing the pit orchestra, DUS Choir Director Hunter Schuur for directing the musical’s vocals, Steve Zebell for playing the piano, Paige Behnke for assisting with costumes and PAC operator Lincoln Clark building sets and assisting with sound.

“I’ve had a lot of community support. I’ve gotten a lot of volunteers,” Murray said. “I’m really pleased.”

“One of the reasons also that I chose this play is because it will have appeal to adults, it’s not a brand new or newer show. When people ask what the show was, I would say it’s Oliver and they would go ‘Oh, Oliver…’ I kept getting that reaction over and over again and I think a lot of adults have been in this show when they were kids and I hope I can return next year and future years and direct more shows. I feel that every kid should at least once, maybe twice in their school theater career do a classic and this is definitely a classic.”

The lead character Oliver is being portrayed by Ashe McLleod, an eighth grader at DMS. McLeod has been involved in theater for four years and was inspired by her older brother Calvin to give theater a try.

“He started doing all these things and I kind of just went with him,” she said. “I started at Beckwith as a prop manager because I was too afraid to step foot on stage.”

McLeod said bringing Oliver to life has helped her grow both as an actor and as a person.

“I have learned to expand my singing range because I was a tenor last year and this year I’m a soprano,” she said. “I’ve also learned how to interact with people in character better than I was last year.”

Myrissa Rowe, a junior at Union High, is portraying the role of Nancy, a member of Fagin’s gang. Rowe decided to participate this year after enjoying working on last year’s Spring production “Spongebob: The Musical.”

“I had so much fun with last year’s show. I just really missed the cast and the people who were working it and I decided to come back.”

Freshman Alex Mauai portrays Fagin, an elderly master thief who kidnaps children and teaches them how to steal for him. Mauai began her theater experience three years ago and has enjoyed it ever since.

“I enjoy being able to express myself in a way that I wouldn’t be able to without this,” she said. There’s a sense of freedom on the stage that I don’t get anywhere else.”

Murray and the cast encouraged community members to support the theater program and attend the performances this weekend.

“When sports kids perform, it’s seen as cool – and it is super cool to put your physical abilities to the test – but with us we have to put everything into our character to make sure that the audience doesn’t think we’re real, but that we are that character,” Mauai said. “Maybe some kids can’t express themselves in a physical manner like that, or at least have fun with it. You see human emotion at its peak performance on stage and you will never see that anywhere else.”

“We put a lot of work into it and it’s going to be absolutely amazing,” Rowe said. “Everyone will be shocked with what goes on.”