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West Branch presents ‘Oliver’ with a twist

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Published: Thu, February 21, 2019 @ 12:05 a.m.

High-school musicals

Staff report


West Branch High School’s production of “Oliver!” this weekend will include a role reversal.

Two students – Tessa Wells and Mitchell Sharp – will direct the musical, while teacher John Zamarelli, who is the director of theater, will be an actor in it.

West Branch has long been one of the most prolific high-school theater departments in the Mahoning Valley. It stages at least three musicals a year and sometimes as many as five.

With such volume, the students gain a lot of experience – a factor that led to the student takeover.

“By the time the students are seniors they have been in so many shows they get to the point where they take over many duties as student directors, set designers and dance instructors,” said Zamarelli. “Our fall production, ‘Newsies,’ was completely run by the student directors.”

Wells and Sharp decided to take it to the next level.

They asked Zamarelli if they could actually direct “Oliver!,” and he agreed, with part of the deal being that he would be part of the cast.

“This is kind of a gifted experience for the students and a sabbatical for me,” said Zamarelli. “Most of my undergraduate and graduate training is performance oriented. When you become an educator, you give that up to instruct the art of performance, which takes all of your time.

“I have always enjoyed performing in shows, and before becoming a teacher and starting my family, I was in many shows. This deal is really good for both parties. The students get to run the show, and I get to step on the stage once again after many years.”

Zamarelli auditioned along with students shortly after the Christmas break.

With some guidance from Zamarelli, directors Wells and Sharp chose the cast with Zamarelli playing the part of Fagin.

Students also came up with a rehearsal schedule, designed the set and will create the choreography for the show, which involves more than 125 students.

“This is a huge undertaking for [Wells and Sharp] but they are doing a great job,” said Zamarelli. “But it is a little different to have them tell me my blocking and how to deliver certain lines. I have forgotten what it’s like to be in the shoes of a cast member.”

The popular musical centers around Oliver Twist, an orphaned boy in London in the early 1800s. Oliver escapes the workhouse and takes up with a group of young pickpockets led by Fagin. He is then taken in by a wealthy man while his former cohorts plot to get him back.

In the West Branch production, Alli Kanagy plays the title role. The cast also includes Jaylynn LaNave, Cullin Mckay, Mario Chick, Alexandrina Weingart, Mitchell Sharp, Julia Zamarelli, Dylan Daley and Kylie Dean.

“Oliver!” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the school auditorium.

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