Middle school musical “Oliver Jr.” opens this week


Photo by Reyut Wasserstein, LT

Middle school students rehearse for their upcoming “Oliver Jr.” performance.

Jessica Rosenberg, Reporter

Middle school thespians have waited a long time since taking the stage for a live performance. Their performance of “Once on This Island” came close to opening in March 2020, but was shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of all of this is about to change when “Oliver Jr.” opens on Thursday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m., with an additional performance on March 27 at 2 p.m. 

“Theater is back! It’s so exciting,” Upper School Vocal Music Teacher Sherry Benedek said.

The last live middle school musical was “Rock of Ages” which took place in 2019. The 2021 Addams Family production was a pre-recorded virtual show. “Oliver Jr.” will have actors performing on stage without masks, though masks are required for the audience.

Eighth-grader Ella Arking played the role of Pugsley in the virtual “Addams Family” production. She was able to look at the pages of her script before filming the scenes for this production, which made it easier to rehearse since an in-person show involves memorizing all of your character’s lines, blocking and choreography. Despite the added challenges, Arking is very excited to perform an in-person show. 

“It’s really cool to be onstage and working off of each other’s energy. I feel like you make a lot tighter bonds when you’re in a show in-person rather than on Zoom,” Arking said.

Other members of the “Oliver Jr.” team are equally excited about performing for a live audience, rather than presenting a pre-recorded show. 

“You can go see the movie for ‘West Side Story’ for example and it’s amazing and wonderful but that’s something that’s going to always be the same,” Benedek said. “When you do something in theater it’s just something brand new every single night in front of brand new people and you never know what’s going to happen.”

This is Benedek’s first time working on a JDS middle school production. She said she loved getting to see how talented the cast is and how much energy they have been putting into each song of the show.

“I’m really proud of them,” Benedek said. “These are middle schoolers and they’re really stepping up to the challenge.”

Seventh-grader Kasuba Chama describes “Oliver Jr.” as having a serious, interesting story that is also weird and funny. “Oliver Jr.” follows the harsh life of a young orphan, Oliver Twist. Oliver must navigate life in an orphanage with few resources to the violence and theft of the London streets in his quest to find a loving family. 

“It’s such a complex play and I think it does not get enough attention,” Chama said. 

Director of Arts Education Dr. David Solomon is delighted to do the show “Oliver Jr.” at JDS this year since this is the first year the junior version has been available. “Oliver” is a classic show with many well-known songs such as “Consider Yourself, and “I’d Do Anything.” Solomon thinks that parents are going to be very pleased with the production since this show is so familiar to them. 

“On the one hand it’s an old show, on the other hand it’s a new version of an old show,” Solomon said. “We look forward to bringing that to our audiences.”