Peter Rothstein remembers being blown away when, as a teenager, he saw the expansive, 10-hour-plus stage adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby on television. "I had never seen anything like it. I still own my VHS tapes," he says.
The director and Theater Latte Da go all in with Dickens starting this weekend with Oliver! It's the company's latest collaboration with the Hennepin Theatre Trust in the Broadway Reimagined series.
See also: Theater Latte Da Recreates the Kit Kat Klub for Cabaret[jump]
"The musical hasn't been in a major production since I moved here. That's a little wild when you think that it is done all the time," Rothstein says. "It's fun to dig into Dickens. The story is gritty, but also a fairy tale. There are all these unlikely coincidences. You have this child who is sent down into the big bad world, who is enticed into the underworld, and ends up transforming everyone in his wake."
To further engage in those concepts, the production uses a steampunk-inspired look. "How do we juxtapose those two worlds? That's when I thought steampunk," Rothstein says. "I was familiar with the aesthetics, but I didn't know a lot. It's been fun to dig into what seems to resonate with where we are going with this piece. [Steampunk] does seem rooted in Dickens. He was holding a mirror up to the Industrial Age, and what happens when we become machines."
That helped to define the different social and economic layers in the musical. "Sometimes when we do period, it just becomes 'period,' but societies are more colorful and richer than that. How can a steampunk world illuminate these different factions of society?"
Nate Turcotte and Bradley Greenwald lead the cast as Oliver and Fagin. Turcotte "really has such a perfectly simple quality onstage. He's a really special kid. You have to have that," Rothstein says.
Other leads include Dieter Beirbrauer as Bill Sikes. "Dieter has a real stage presence and he is sexy as hell. Even the villains in Dickens have layers, but sometimes in the musical Bill is not layered as much," Rothstein says.
Rothstein also wanted to build on the idea that the boys in the workhouse are cogs in a machine. There are more than three dozen young actors in the show. They were recruited from the Minnesota Boys Choir.
"There are not many local shows where you will see 40 people onstage, or have 40 voices coming at you," Rothstein says.
And Dickens's message hasn't gone out of style.
"There are huge themes that are still relevant today. What is the cost of advancement? What is the cost of industrialization? That's the reason Dickens is produced today," Rothstein says.
IF YOU GO:
Oliver! The show is in previews through Thursday, opens Friday, and runs through March 1 Pantages 710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis $24-$52 For tickets and more information, call 1.800.859.7469 or visit online.