Christian Labertew is artful as the Dodger in ‘Oliver!’
PCHS senior comes full circle
November 29, 2016
Park City's Christian Labertew is ready to bring his version of the Artful Dodger to Pioneer Theater Company's "Oliver!" this week.
The Park City High School Senior is one of three Parkites, including Ava Hoekstra and J.T. O'Rielly, who will appear in the musical that runs Dec. 2-17 in the Pioneer Memorial Theatre at the University of Utah. (See accompanying story titled "Young Parkites add flavor to 'Oliver!'" ).
Based on Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," "Oliver!" is a Tony Award-winning musical with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart.
The story follows the plight of an orphan boy who finds himself befriended by a group of street-urchin, pick pockets led by a conniving criminal named Fagan.
The Artful Dodger is Fagin's most clever pickpocket, and is, to some, considered Fagin's right hand boy.
For Labertew, playing the Artful Dodger is like coming full circle.
"I was actually in a production of 'Oliver!' at the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake when I was younger and that was actually one of the first shows I ever did," Labertew said during an interview with The Park Record. "I remember the guy who played the Artful Dodger in that one. His name was Max Huftalin and he was someone I looked to and was a mentor whom I spent a lot of time with."
That experience introduced the musical to Labertew, and his involvement with the Egyptian Theatre's YouTheatre program has helped him maneuver the local, live theater requirements.
Last year, he appeared in another Pioneer Theatre Company production, "A Christmas Carol," which, incidentally, is also based on a Charles Dicken's story.
"Because I have had experience with Charles Dickens' works, I'm familiar with the [attributes] of the roles," Labertew said. "I also think the Artful Dodger is one of Dickens' most famous characters, and I think a lot of people are somewhat familiar with him."
Latertew sees the Dodger as smart and funny.
"But there is also a part about him where he is the essence of the kid who is trying to be an adult," Labertew explained. "He wants to play with the big boys, but, in turn, is also the older brother and mentor role for the younger kids. And that's fun to play, because i have also tried to connect with people who were older than me."
That's how he sees the relationship of his role with Fagin.
"I was never a teacher's pet growing up, but I've always strived to be one of the better students, especially with the acting teachers and directors I have had over the years," Labertew said. "I think that is a lot of how I play the Dodger's relationship with Fagin. He wants to be more like a friend to Fagin, than one of his gang."
Labertew also enjoys the Artful Dodger's interactions with Oliver, who is played by Maxwell Rimington.
"Maxwell is a great kid and fun to work with, because he's not very shy," Labertew said. "The first day we met, we immediately connected, which helps with the chemistry we have on stage. Its easy for us to complement each other on stage."
There are challenges to the role.
"It’s easy to say he's a street urchin and this cool character and the comedic relief of the show, but I think when I dig more into the role, it's difficult for me to connect on his relationship with Bill Sykes, who is the antagonist of the play," Labertew said. "I can play at being the flirtatious and fun, carefree boy, but it's hard for me to play this kid who is terrified of Bill."
"Oliver!" marks the second time Labertew is working with PTC's Artistic Director Karen Azenberg, who also directed the musical.
"She helped me step out of my comfort zone and make the Dodger my own character," Labertew said. "While he will always be known for some things like the tall top hat and things like that, but Karen helped me analyze the script and find the subtext for each line and how I could relate that to myself and other characters."
Labertew's favorite scenes and songs are "Oom Pah Pah" and "Be Back Soon."
"Even though 'Consider Yourself' is the biggest and most popular song I do, it's not the one that sticks with me," he said. "I enjoy 'Oom Pah Pah,' because it's so catchy and 'Be Back Soon' just sticks in my head and won't leave."
Pioneer Theatre Company will present "Oliver!" from Dec. 2-17, at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, in Salt Lake City. Showtimes for Monday through Wednesday is 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday performances start at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdaymatinees start at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $40 to $62 and can be purchased by calling 801-581-6961 or by visiting www.pioneertheatre.org.