It's intended to be a steady diet of music and melodrama amid the abject poverty of the London underworld, as the musical "Oliver" takes the stage tomorrow and Friday at Mount Airy Middle School.

In Lionel Bart's sometimes-upbeat musical adaptation of the 19th-century Charles Dickens classic, "Oliver Twist," the orphan Oliver escapes from a workhouse only to fall into the clutches of the filthy Fagin, the master of a den of young London thieves.

The plot unfolds like London's byways and Dickens' novel, as Oliver gets away from Fagin and is befriended by the good Mr. Brownlow, only to be recaptured by the king of pickpockets. Oliver's friend Nancy gives up her life to save his, as she is killed by the slimy Bill Sikes.

In a curious twist, Brownlow turns out to be Oliver's grandfather.

Through role-sharing, some 30 seventh- and eighth-grade students will display their performing talents.

Kjeld Lauritzen, a 12-year-old from Sykesville, plays Oliver on Thursday evening, singing a solo and four other songs.

The seventh-grader described Oliver as "a kid shut up in a workhouse who gets out into the big world."

"He's curious about it, but really scared," Kjeld said. "He has more freedoms and can say what he wants to."

Kjeld was the only boy to try out for the cast, said special education teacher and Drama Club instructor William Price, who directs the play.

Julianne Yocum, 12,fills the starring role Friday evening.

"It's a lot of work," said the seventh-grader from Mount Airy.

Thirteen-year-old student director Kathy Wotthlie "makes sure everybody is organized and comes topractice."

"I assist Mr. Price, keep everybody quietand help actors with their lines," said the eighth-grader, who added that she'd like to join the Stagelighters at South Carroll High next year.

Nicole Spencer takes the role of Fagin; eighth-grader Katie Rockwell portrays Nancy; Christy Blair plays Dodger, leader of a gang of thieves; and seventh-grader Crystal Meachum is Charlie Bates, Dodger's friend.

"I show Oliver how to pick pockets," Crystal said.

Miranda Justice portrays Mr. Sowerberry, and Rachel Zaruba plays Mrs. Sowerberry. Eighth-grader Jill Baldwin is a workhouse boy and sings a solo, "Consider Yourself."

Maria Harris, 12, is Noah Claypole. Seventh-grader Jaime Bowling, 12, is among the chorus.

"The kids have worked hard and done a heck of a job," said Price, who directed the students in C. S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" last year.

"Oliver" cast members have been re

hearsing since February under the direction of Price, music director Connie Houck and program coordinator Sue Hostetter, a school language arts teacher.

Houck, a vocal-music teacher at the school, directs the chorus for the musical's 14 familiar numbers, which include "Consider Yourself," "Food, Glorious Food" and "Where Is Love?"

On Saturdays and after school, members of the seventh-grade Drama Club built the scenery for "Oliver" and enlarged the stage.

Hostetter organized programs, props and costumes, and Jeannine Blair, Christy's mother, assembled the costumes.

Houck on piano, Chrissee Harrison on synthesizer and Richard Harrisonon electric bass provide instrumental accompaniment.

The Mount Airy Middle School Drama Club presents "Oliver" at 7 p.m. tomorrow and Friday in the school gym. Tickets are $3 at the door. Information: 795-1744.

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