He played the Artful Dodger when he was 15, and now actor Hugh Panaro is in his backstage dressing room, transforming himself into Fagin in the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Oliver as he schmoozes with Joel Markowitz. Listen as he applies his prosthetic nose, makeup, beard, warts and wig to create the face of the older, crochety mentor of Dickens’ den of thieves.
“Phantom (of the Opera) was my training ground, watching my friend Thelma Pollard the Phantom makeup artist… I’ve learned everything I am doing now.”
What is he bringing to his performance of Fagin? “The Artful Dodger brings Oliver home, to what is a dysfunctional family. A lot of people think (Fagin) he is a horrible character, because he teaches these kids to thieve and pick pockets, but this is The Island of Misfit Toys. As dysfunctional as we are, we are still family. What I’ve tried to do is to show that there is a lot of heart and love.”
Why did he want to play the role of Fagin? “I don’t have to warm up. The worst I sound – the better! Do you want a Fagin that sounds pretty? You want gravelly!”
Hugh is now playing older roles. “I really want to play grown-up roles. I’ve always felt like a character actor trapped in a leading man’s skin.”
Rob McClure, who DC audiences saw pulling the strings of Princeton and Rod in The National Theatre’s Helen Hayes Award winning production of Avenue Q in 2007, is playing the evil Noah Claypole in Oliver, and he joins in on the conversation.
“He’s a plague ridden disgusting human being. He picks on this poor kid (Oliver) and Oliver kicks his butt. I get my butt kicked by a 10 year old nightly”.
Why is Oliver still so popular with audiences? Rob chimes in, “It’s got that family musical thing, and it’s got all the recognizable music, and they love the songs, but it’s still Dickens. Though it’s scary and very real, there’s definitely some meat to the story.”
Oliver plays through January 10th at Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, go to their website www.walnutstreettheatre.org, or call (215) 574-3550.