In celebration of the 200th birthday of English author Charles Dickens, the Bayside-based community theater group Theatre by the Bay will be performing its own rendition of Dickens’s classic “Oliver!” at the Bay Terrace Jewish Center in Bayside.
The play, which tells the story of a poor, young orphan boy who falls in with a band of criminals in 19th century London, features a cast of 50, including 25 children from Queens and Long Island.
“We have actors that range in age from 6 to 70,” said Larry Bloom, the show’s director and producer. “Community theater in general is a labor of love. By day, we have people who are doctors, lawyers and teachers. But at night, everyone leaves their egos at the door and they come together as a cast.”
Bloom himself works by day in banking but has been involved in community theater since the 1960s. “I always did theatre on the side.”
Noting the intergenerational nature of the group, Bloom said that for some of the show’s kids it will be their first taste of theater. “But we have all levels of experience. Some have been acting for years and others are relative newcomers.”
At age 12, Isabel Robin, who plays the lead, Oliver Twist, already has three productions under her belt, having played Annie in “Annie” and young Patrick in “Mame” during the 2010-11 Season. “It’s such a great feeling to be on stage and I love the family environment of this show,” said Robin, who attends MS 294 in Bayside and has been studying voice since age 9.
Robin, who admits to being a “total theater nerd,” said she saw the movie “Oliver!” when she was younger. “I remember there were some really dark and sad scenes but also lots of dancing and the songs are great.” She adds that someday her goal is to be on Broadway but anything in entertainment would suffice.
In real life, Marc Crawford Leavit is a partner in the law firm of Leavit, Kerson and Duane but in the musical “Oliver!” Leavit plays Fagin, the head of Oliver’s gang of pint-sized pickpockets. Calling the show a “wonderful and fun” experience, Leavit said that there is also real meaning behind the performance.
“We get the kids to appreciate what real poverty is,” he said. A major theme in the Dickens story is the extreme poverty that existed in 19th century London and how people survived under dire conditions.
“We try to make the experience as real as possible,” said Leavit, who received a bachelor’s degree in theater and political science from Stony Brook University and was the only Columbia Law School student in the Barnard Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
While with other Queens’ community theater groups, Leavit has played Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” and FDR in “Annie.” “Community theater has its ups and downs,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not.”
Active in his community, Leavit is a member of the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus. Also, just prior to the show’s March debut, Leavit said he’s traveling to Africa for 10 days that’s part vacation and part volunteer work at a school in Tanzania.
Dana Hart Lubeck calls the role of Nancy, a young member of Fagin’s gang who is sympathetic to Oliver’s character, “a dream role” that she places in her top five of all time.
Lubeck, who teaches voice and acting at New York University, credits her father Drew, who also plays Mr. Sowerberry in the show, as well as director Larry Bloom for getting her involved in community theater.
Recent theater credits include Elieri in Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Woman One in “Jacques Brel” and Annie in Neil Simon’s “London Suite.”
“I really love working with all the children in this show,” she said. “They’re really great and talented.”
In keeping with the core themes of the story, the group will host a special concert for St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children based in Bayside on Feb. 21 and throughout the show’s seven performances audience members are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items that will then be donated to City Harvest.
In addition, audience members are invited to question-and-answer sessions with the cast following two Sunday matinees on March 11 and March 18.
“Oliver!” will run on Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. on March 3, 10 and 17 and Sundays at 3 p.m. on March 4, 11, 18 and 25 at the Bay Terrace Jewish Center. Ticket prices are $20 and $18 for seniors 62 and older and children under 13. Visit www.theatr