With puppy dog eyes and a pitiful pout, Avery Pauls cups his hands and softly pleads: “Please sir, I want some…”
The 12-year-old imagines hungry pangs as he begs for an extra serving of gruel. To get into character, he has to conjure up the squalor of Dickensian London, its cramped garrets and filthy, mean streets filled with mean, nasty people.
“It’s a really sad thing to be thinking about,” says Pauls, who plays Oliver Twist in SPECC-tacular Productions’ presentation of Oliver!, the musical.
Pauls admits he was a bit of an Oliver enthusiast before he got the role. He knew the twists and turns of the story and even mastered the tear-jerking song Where is Love? by practicing singing it with his vocal coach.
“I love old time shows,” says Pauls, who looks the part of Oliver, but acknowledges he’s nothing like the soft-spoken orphan.
“We don’t have much in common, so it’s a big challenge for me. I like the funny roles, not the serious roles.”
Adapted from the book Oliver Twist, written by Charles Dickens, Lionel Bart’s musical is filled with unforgettable, foot tapping songs, including Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, I’d Do Anything, As Long As He Needs Me, Where Is Love, and many more.
Oliver! isn’t feel-good fare. It’s the story of a young orphan boy who flees a work house and stumbles into the mean streets of London, where he struggles to survive while meeting some memorable and downright scary characters along the way. He gets entangled with a gang of pickpockets, is threatened by an East End villain and witnesses a brutal murder.
That scene – the one where Nancy screams for her life – is particularly unnerving for young Pauls.
“It’s the scariest part of the show for me,” he says, but assures the audience Oliver! wraps up with a “happy ending.”
SPECC-tacular brings the musical to life with a talented cast of seasoned actors and dancers, who’ve been rehearsing their roles since May.
Although it’s the first time he’s acted in a musical, Sam Watkins is relishing his role as the Artful Dodger.
“He’s Fagin’s top dog,” says Watkins, 12.
“All the other kids want to be like him.”
Watkins and Pauls have become fast friends while rehearsing for the musical and both say it helped to form a bond.
Pauls and Watkins have mastered their lines by practicing the “Italian” – where they recite the lines with no pauses, at break-neck speed.
“It really helps,” says Pauls.
“The lines really stick in your brain.”
They believe being “real” friends will make their characters more believable on stage.
“It’s better to know someone than be complete stranger,” says Paul. Watkins agrees.
“I’m more comfortable talking to someone I know than a complete stranger,” he adds.
With a few weeks left until opening night, the pair are trying to perfect their Cockney accents and admits that sounding British is perhaps the hardest part of being Oliver and Dodger.
“Mine sounds Irish,” says Paul. “I think once I sounded Russian,” says Watkins, with a laugh.
Oliver! comes to life at The ACT in Maple Ridge September 18 – 23. Showtimes on Tuesday, Sept. 18 to Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. There is a Saturday matinee (Sept. 22) at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday matinee (Sept. 23) at 1 p.m. Tickets are available at actmapleridge.org.