Veteran Peninsula actor has not one but two roles in Seattle production of 'Oliver!'
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Peninsula Daily News
Swarbrick Dries in real life.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

SEATTLE — She's two-faced, breathless and loving every minute.

That's what happens when you play a pair of women, one mean and the other one sweet.

Carol Swarbrick Dries of Dungeness, cofounder of the local Readers Theatre Plus troupe, is also a veteran stage and screen actress with a lot of Broadway on her resume.

Her latest show is “Oliver!,” the musical based on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, just opened at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre.

In this story of an orphan boy amidst the pickpockets and ragamuffins of Victorian London, Swarbrick Dries portrays uptight Mrs. Sowerberry in Act One and songbird Mrs. Bedwin in Act Two. She's reveling in the two roles — in eight shows a week at the 5th Avenue, Seattle's 87-year-old temple of musical theater.

In the first role, she's a cartoon character come to life as “a very stern, sour berry,” as Swarbrick Dries describes her.

While she utters Dickens' words — in Cockney accent of course — she dons a costume designed through Oliver's eyes.

“Everything is vertical on this woman ... with a lot of triangle points,” such as those steep eyebrows and the V-shaped widow's peak.

When 10-year-old Oliver is purchased by Mr. Sowerberry the undertaker, he's assigned the job of “junior coffin follower.” It's decided that he should wear a big, black top hat, so Mrs. Sowerberry whips out her kerchief and stuffs it in a hat to make it sit high enough on his small head.

Soon the boy is thrust into his next situation: trainee with Fagin, Fagin's Gang and the Artful Dodger. Songs such as “Consider Yourself” and “You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” ensue, and Oliver is sent forth on his first thieving job. When Dodger and another boy named Charley Bates rob a wealthy gentleman named Mr. Brownlow, they run off to leave Oliver, who's arrested. He's taken to Brownlow's house, where he meets the sweet Mrs. Bedwin, a kind of rescuer.

As Brownlow's housekeeper, “they have made me quite round . . . so soft,” said Swarbrick Dries. Again, she appears just as Oliver would see her.

A favorite moment in the show comes when Swarbrick Dries sings the reprise of “Where Is Love” as Oliver slumbers.

Swarbrick Dries is full of admiration for her fellow actors, who include Jack Fleischmann and Mark Jeffrey James Weber sharing the role of Oliver.

“They're both just dear and lovely,” she said.

On opening night last Thursday, “Oliver!,” with its cast of 66 — 36 of them children — had the audience not merely clapping, but cheering.

“Those little boys — to hear that applause just washing over them,” Swarbrick Dries said, “it's just fabulous.”

She and her husband Jim Dries will spend their Christmas in Seattle this year, since “Oliver!” has performances on Christmas Eve as well as Dec. 26.

“We're going to have a more relaxed Christmas,” than it would be driving to and from Dungeness, the actress said.

Jim Dries, meantime, has been serving as production manager for “The SantaLand Diaries,” a staging of David Sedaris' memoir of portraying a Macy's elf. A Readers Theatre Plus event, “SantaLand” starred Richard Stephens, Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at the Dungeness Schoolhouse and this past weekend at Studio Bob in Port Angeles.

As for the holiday show at the 5th Avenue, “Oliver!” has evening and matinee performances through Dec. 31, with tickets ranging from $29 to $130. They're available at the theater, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle, via and 888-5th-4TIX (584-4849).


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at

Last modified: December 08. 2013 6:10PM
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