Oliver at Arena Stage Photo courtesy Arena Stage

Arena Stage’s Contemporary Take on Oliver!

Arena Stage invites audiences to experience modern-day London, transforming Tony Award-winning musical Oliver!  from the days of Charles Dickens to 2015. Under the direction of Artistic Director Molly Smith, the classic story of young orphan Oliver Twist becomes a commentary on class disparity and violence in England’s capital today.

“We’re definitely holding up the mirror to the life we’re living today and telling people that this is still happening,” says Helen Hayes Award winner and Takoma Park native Eleasha Gamble of London’s exceedingly high poverty rate. “This is still the world we’re living in, and not as much has changed as we all think and hope it has.”

Gamble, back at Arena for the third time, plays Nancy, a member of the very same gang of street urchins and pickpockets that takes Oliver under its collective wing. Under the thumb of the very cruel Bill Sikes, one of gang leader Fagin’s associates, Nancy begins to care for Oliver as if he is her own.

Gamble says there’s an interesting duality to her character, who she first played as a freshman in high school. She now credits the role as the “light bulb” moment that launched her acting career.

“She’s clearly this gang member and could easily be looked at as a bad guy, so to speak, but then there’s such a wonderful heart and grace to her that it’s a joy to discover all of the different levels and nooks and crannies of the character.”

The actress plays opposite nine-year-old Jake Heston Miller as the title character, who she says has surprised the entire cast with his intelligence. The Warrenton, Va. actor is wowing everyone during scene readings, holding his own with the impressive roster of artists.

“He’s great,” says Gamble. “He’s really present onstage. I look forward to seeing his growth and where we end up.”

Don’t miss Oliver! from October 30 to January 3 on Arena’s four-sided Fichandler Stage. Tickets range from $64 to $119, but students can receive 35 percent off of regular ticket prices, and theatergoers 30 and under can purchase Pay-Your-Age tickets. Check the Arena Stage website for more details.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-554-9066; www.arenastage.org.