It’s all about the frocks in ‘Oliver’

Capital Playhouse production features a lively little twist with color-coordinated characters

Contributing writerMarch 15, 2013 

It’s likely you know quite a bit about “Oliver,” the perennially popular musical based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.”

You might know the basic outlines of the story and can probably sing along to such songs as “Consider Yourself” and “Anything.”

But if you haven’t paid close attention to the costumes, you might not know as much as you think about the show, in its opening weekend at Capital Playhouse.

“Pay close attention to the costumes, and it will add greatly to the experience of whatever you’re watching,” said Kellen Dixie Krieg of San Francisco, who designed the costumes for this show and for “Buddy” and “Nuncrackers” earlier in the season.

Take the way the play’s couples are costumed. “I wanted to do color schemes for them,” she said. “It can help the audience interpret the characters. I have a couple that is in blues, and then I have a couple that is in all wine colors and black lace.

“It’s a fun way to take it a little bit beyond what standard fashion was — a dramatized version of the actual fashion of the period.”

Putting on a show based on a Dickens novel is just as exciting for the costume designer as for the director, though each has different reasons.

“Dickens wrote such rich characters,” said director Colleen Powers (and as an English teacher at Olympia High School, she’s well qualified to give an opinion). “They all have great names and great personalities. He wrote is as sort of a social commentary of the times in London. … You can really see how he satirized the adults. That makes the show fun.”

For Krieg, it’s the show’s rich visual possibilities that stand out.

“I love Dickens,” she said. “He focused so much on status and on the status of people in extreme poverty.”

The show is set during the Industrial Revolution, a time when many previously working-class people lost their jobs and ended up living on the streets.

“I get to create something that is very beautiful and then destroy it,” Kellen said. “It’s such a dark piece of theater visually. It’s exciting for me to get to create the look for a show like this.”

At the beginning of the show, the orphans are dressed all in very similar colors, shades of brown and taupe. “Because they then become pickpockets, I wanted them to be in colors that almost camouflage into the set,” she said.

“For the people of higher status, for instance the character of the wealthy grandfather, I have very rich colors for them.”

Krieg, who designed costumes for Teatro ZinZanni in San Francisco until it closed two years ago, is enjoying a homecoming of working for Capital Playhouse. She’s been traveling back and forth, spending a month here for “Oliver” since it’s a large production with elaborate costumes.

“I started out performing with Capital Playhouse when I was a child,” she said. “I grew up in Kids at Play. I learned to sew in the costume shop there.”

Coming back to do costume design is filling a void in her life, she said. “Coming back her and being able to periodically design for the theater gives me that gratification,” she said. “It feels good to come back here and be able to do something more than just get by.

“When I’m up here, I’m doing what I love.” ‘Oliver’

What: Capital Playhouse presents the musical based on Charles Dickens’ tale of the trials and tribulations of a young orphan.

When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, and March 21-23 and 28-30; 2 p.m. Sunday and March 23, 24 and 31

Where: Capital Playhouse, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $33-$39 for adults, $28-$34 for seniors (60 and older) and youth (16 and younger); for the 2 p.m. March 23 show, pay what you can.

More information: 360-943-2744,

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