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posted: 7/14/2014 12:23 PM

'Oliver!' opens Thursday at St. James in Arlington Hts.

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  • Director Peter Buckley helps Fr. Bill Zavaski with his makeup before dress rehearsal for "Oliver!"

       Director Peter Buckley helps Fr. Bill Zavaski with his makeup before dress rehearsal for "Oliver!"
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Joe Bonnadonna as Mr. Bumble, left, and Don Nowakowski as Mr. Sowerberry, size up Oliver, played by Benjamin Sanetra, in the "That's your Funeral" scene, during dress rehearsal.

       Joe Bonnadonna as Mr. Bumble, left, and Don Nowakowski as Mr. Sowerberry, size up Oliver, played by Benjamin Sanetra, in the "That's your Funeral" scene, during dress rehearsal.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • The opening scene,"Food, Glorious Food" performed by most of the 45 children in the cast.

       The opening scene,"Food, Glorious Food" performed by most of the 45 children in the cast.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Nanette Sowa as Mrs. Sowerberry, the undertaker's wife, with young Oliver, played by Benjamin Sanetra.

       Nanette Sowa as Mrs. Sowerberry, the undertaker's wife, with young Oliver, played by Benjamin Sanetra.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 

What goes around, comes around for Peter Buckley of Arlington Heights -- and St. James Theatre Productions.

More than 40 years after Buckley starred as an 11-year old in the title role, he returns to direct this summer's production of, "Oliver!"

Since making his theater debut, Buckley has appeared in multiple community theater productions at Cutting Hall in Palatine, and returned to St. James to play the role of Fagin in the church's second production of the musical, 20 years ago.

He even landed the role of Mr. Brownlow in the national touring production of "Oliver!"

"I guess you could say I've hit for the cycle," Buckley said last week, taking a rare break during tech week. "It's been really fun."

He directs a cast that includes nearly 100 community actors, including 45 children, from across the Northwest suburbs, as well as a live orchestra and technical crew that combined to build its mid-1800s London set.

Ironically, back in 1971, when parishioners mounted "Oliver!" the first time, one of their associate priests, the Rev. William Zavaski, directed it and played the role of Fagin. Now, living in residence at the parish after serving as pastor, he returns to his roots, playing Fagin again.

The church's current pastor, the Rev. Matthew Foley, and associate pastor, the Rev. Joji Thanugundla, also have bit parts in the show.

"Things have certainly changed since we first started," Zavaski says. "The quality and talent on the stage have certainly grown in depth and stature, but I remain truly honored to be among such dedicated and devoted members of this company."

Buckley agrees.

"We have an exceptional level of talent," says Buckley, who points to such young actors as Cody Bolithon of Arlington Heights, who recently appeared in the ensemble of Drury Lane's production of "Oliver!" and Emily Leahy of Elk Grove Village, who performed in "Gypsy" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Connor O'Malley of Lake Zurich and Ben Sanetra of Mount Prospect share the title role of Oliver, playing the part on opposite nights.

Other principals include: Bob Lef, Tom Hussey, Clare Supplitt, Michael Wilder, Kristin Zanini, all of Arlington Heights; Brian Eiffes of Mount Prospect, Jack Zaflarski of Wheeling, Ian Stanley of Highland Park and Kathi Campbell of Brookfield.

Production members include: choreographer Marina Sterner of Barrington; set designer Paul Sowa of Wheeling; Bill Carvell of Mount Prospect who led the construction crew; Sharon Damisch of Palatine who painted the background image of St. Paul's Cathedral; Barry Norton of McHenry who led the paint crew, Judy Sheehan of Chicago, who led all the costumers and seamstresses, and orchestra director John Kula, and producers Rob and Vicki Sanetra, all of Mount Prospect.

"What makes St. James different from other productions is the ability for families to work on a production together, all summer," Vicki Sanetra says. "In this day and age, there are few opportunities for that to happen.

"We think of this as a parish ministry," she adds, "where we welcome all members of the community, regardless of their religious affiliation."

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