Musical 'Oliver' becomes family affair for Janesville clan

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Ann Fiore
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

JANESVILLE—Consider yourself at home, the cast of “Oliver” sings.  Consider yourself one of the family.

The Saliby family has taken those lyrics and run with them.

Theatre Unlimited's latest musical, “Oliver”—based on Charles Dickens' novel “Oliver Twist”—is the first show that involves everyone in the Saliby family: Steve, Becky, Emily and Sullivan.

Sullivan, 11, has the lead role of Oliver, the British boy who runs away from an orphanage and joins a gang of pickpockets. Dad Steve, mom Becky and big sister Emily are extras, although Steve has a couple of speaking lines.

The show opens Friday, Sept. 6, and runs for two weekends at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

“It has been really wonderful,” said Becky Saliby, who admits she's more accustomed to playing family cheerleader than a barmaid in “Oliver.”

“We're actually having family time,” she said. “We're away from television. We're away from friends. We're sharing an interest that the kids have. It's really been nurturing for my family.”

Becky said her kids get their stage confidence from their father, who has an acting background.

Theatergoers might remember Sullivan from his role as Kurt Von Trapp in the recent Bower City Theatre Company production of “The Sound of Music.”

That was actually his first performance in a major JPAC musical. Before that, he had roles in SpotLight on Kids, KidStage and Roosevelt Elementary School shows. His debut was as a kindergartner in Roosevelt's “Peter Rabbit.”

“Some kids didn't like it,” Sullivan said of the Roosevelt shows, “but I loved it.”

“Oliver” is more demanding, with lots of lines and songs to memorize. While Sullivan finds “getting into character” a challenge, he has no trouble with the singing.

“Honestly, I love singing. I have loved singing since I was in kindergarten,” he said. “I really love singing. Singing is probably the biggest part of my day. When I'm alone (and sad), I'll sing and I'll be happy again.”

He said it's great to have his entire family onstage.

“It's been amazing. It was kinda weird seeing everyone onstage, but it was kinda cool, too—like seeing my mom being in character. I'd see her sweeping, and I'd think, 'What's she doing? Oh, she's in the show.'”

He described dad's English accent as “actually really funny” and had high praise for his sister, a junior at Craig High School who has acted in many shows, including this summer's “Les Miserables.”

“She's influenced me so much; she's helped me so much,” Sullivan said. “I'm so thankful to have her. She's probably the best older sister you could have.”

As for his mom, who's making her stage debut as a barmaid, Sullivan said he's impressed.

He said they sometimes talk after rehearsals about things that went well and things that need work.

“She's made so much progress,” he said. “Seeing her sweeping and doing what she needed to do, I'm proud of her.”

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