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January 2, 2003

'Oliver!' kicks off season of heros

From: Norwich Bulletin, CT - 02 Jan 2003

Norwich Bulletin
Brett Bernardini's mind is starting to go the way of Hollywood.

He's beginning to think in terms of trilogies.

"For some bizarre reason, that's what I see," said Bernardini, who is the artistic director and founder of the Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich.

Of course, Bernardini doesn't have the multi-million dollar budgets like "The Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson or "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. But what he does have is an intimate 70-seat theater and a desire to bring new works to the stage.

The possible trilogy Bernardini sees is having his theater seasons based on themes. The 2003 season, which is the Spirit of Broadway's sixth and begins Wednesday with "Oliver!," is centered around the idea of heroes. All eight plays the theater will produce this season have unlikely and everyday heroes in them.

In addition, the theater will have a Hero recognition program, where for each play one person from the community will be honored for their achievements as an "Everyday Hero." An "Everyday Hero" from the community's past will also be honored.

With this season recognizing heroes, Bernardini views next season as a possible dedication to villains and the season after that to "the stories we tell," which would complete the trilogy.

"My hope is that by the time this season is done, the residents of Norwich can say we have an enormous amount to be proud of in this community," Bernardini said. "This is a mammoth season. It's not just a wonderful season of theater. It's a springboard to everything else we try to do. There are a lot of things besides the show."

When it comes to the shows, Bernardini has again lined up a season of world premieres and New England premieres.

And even with "Oliver!," a musical that's been done countless times, Bernardini has put a unique spin on the classic tale.

For the Spirit of Broadway production, both the main character Oliver and his friend Dodger are deaf, so much of the play will be in sign language as well as spoken.

"I thought about how can we give the piece a deeper sense of meaning," Bernardini said. "It's not just about a young boy, but it comes at other levels that we all recognize. We're all looking for somebody to relate to us, to hear us and to make us feel wanted."

Another new wrinkle on the 2003 season is the length of a show's run. Each play will have 20 performances, running four consecutive weeks on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule.

"Oliver!" runs until Feb. 2.

In February, the Spirit of Broadway will do the world premiere of "Heaven Knows." The musical will star cabaret performer Julie Reyburn.

The rest of the season includes the world premiere of "PoeSCrypt" and New England premieres of "The Hidden Sky," "The Rose and the Ring," "Weird Romance" and local playwright Michael Bradford's "Living In The Wind."

"The season is more of a challenge for us in terms of growing into how we see ourselves as a theater and how we're positioning ourselves in the community," Bernardini said. "We continue to do pieces that haven't been done.

"We will continue to be innovative. I want people to walk away not just saying they've seen great theater, but to say, 'There's just something about that place.'"

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