Ryan Stotts intends to put a new twist on “Oliver!” the musical.
“I’ve always wanted to do ‘Oliver!’ with 10 people covering all the roles,” he said.
And that’s exactly what Stotts will present when “Oliver!” opens Friday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre. The casts consists of five children and five adults — sure to be a surprise for anyone who has read Charles Dickens’ sprawling novel, or has seen the 1968 Oscar-winning film with its dance scenes involving a cast of hundreds, if not thousands.
But, of course, the Rochester Rep doesn’t often present large-cast plays, in part because there simply isn’t room on the cramped Rep stage — especially if singing and dancing is involved.
“I went to the Rep board and said, ‘I know you think of this as a big show, but it’s a big title. I can do it with 10 people,” Stotts said.
With board approval in hand, Stotts set about configuring “Oliver!” for the Rep. “It’s designed specifically for that space,” he said. “The Rep is very open to this particular production because it’s intimate.”
Then came the challenge of casting the five kids and five adults. Stotts didn’t bother to hold auditions for the adults; he simply went to five of the more experienced actors in town and asked them to be in the show.
As a result, he’s lined up a who’s who of local stage veterans: Mark Hansen, Denise Ruemping, Lawrence Sinak, Suzie Stier-Waletski and Karl Bristol.
Hanson, Sinak and Stier-Waletski have been seen in numerous productions at both the Rep and Rochester Civic Theatre. Ruemping, besides acting in local shows, is education director at RCT, and Bristol had a starring role as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” last fall at RCT.
The children — Logan Ackerman, Jacob Decker, William Laudon, Toni St. Godard and Jonas Tilburt — range in age from 9 to 13.
“I have literally the best cast I have ever had in a show,” Stotts said.
During rehearsals, each adult has been paired with a child, providing the kids with a how-to model for getting a show off the ground. In exchange, the young actors provide energy and freshness.
“What the kids bring to this show can’t be overestimated,” Stotts said. “It’s been thrilling to watch.”
With the limited number of actors in Stotts’ production, there’s little down time for any of them once the curtain goes up. “They never leave the stage,” he said. “There are 30 coat hooks across the back wall to hold costumes. They do all of their costume changes right in front of you.”
For all of its pizzazz and great songs, “Oliver!” has a poignant message, Stotts said.
“For me, this is the ultimate wish-fulfillment story,” he said. “Oliver wants to be loved.”
That wish might come true with this reconfigured production of “Oliver” at the Rep.
If you go
When: Opens at 8 p.m. Friday. Performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays through Sept. 27
Where: Rochester Repertory Theatre, 103 Seventh St. N.E., Rochester
Tickets: $25; 507-289-1737