Kevin James is a dad first and a performer second, and this weekend he'll combine the two roles — and have a Dickens of a time — when he performs with his four children in the musical "Oliver!" at the Cultural Arts Playhouse (CAP) in Syosset.
The Stony Brook-raised comic and sitcom star will play Fagin, the mentor to a den of young thieves, in the Friday and Saturday night performances and the Sunday matinee. The show is definitely a James family affair with son Kannon, 10, playing the orphaned Oliver Twist, and daughters Sienna, 16, as the Artful Dodger; Shea, 14, as Bet, and Sistene, 7, as Nipper.
"He's a wonderful father," said CAP owner Bruce Grossman about James, who has been coming for several years to the venue, which has an academy where his children have studied musical theater.
James, 56, first approached Grossman in 2019 about appearing in one of the theater's shows after seeing Sienna as Cosette in "Les Misérables." Grossman loved the idea, and when "Oliver!" (based on the classic Charles Dickens novel) was announced, the timing worked out with James' schedule. Not that he was a shoo-in for the part.
"Let’s just say we had 50 people audition to be in 'Oliver!' He was No. 30 when he came. He waited in the lobby with everyone else. He came in and he auditioned just like everyone else," Grossman said.
James, of course, got the part, with another actor taking on the role for the remainder of the show's run through Feb. 6. When CAP over the weekend posted news of James' appearances, the three shows sold out immediately,
Grossman, who is also one of the show's choreographers, said the part has been staged to accommodate James' natural gifts as a comedian. "The expectation of the audience will be that they’ll want to come and laugh knowing he’s a comic," Grossman said. "We molded the performance around his skill set, but he definitely has some serious moments. And he’s a good singer."
In addition to his theater gig, James will next be seen in the Netflix sports comedy movie "Home Team," playing New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. It premieres Jan. 28.
Those who couldn't score tickets to "Oliver!" can catch a glimpse of James as Fagin in a video posted by the public-access show Stage and Screen and In Between. And if James proves to be a hit, it might not be the last time he performs with CAP.
"Kevin has said that he’d like to do this again," Grossman said. "He likes the excitement of live theater and he likes doing it with his kids. And as long as he has the time, he said let’s do it again in the spring. We'd love to have him as a regular."