Oliver! The Musical is an ambitious undertaking blending top young talent with seasoned professionals on a prestigious stage, and man does it pop and zing! Director Joseph Ritsch brings the story to life with a gritty realism. There’s no spoonful of sugar to help any of these real life traumas go down. Dickens is gothic dark, somber and menacing, and Ritsch makes that crystal clear in the opening number with full cast on stage striking poses not to be messed with.
Oliver, played by Franco Cabanas with the pitch-perfect clarity of an angel, emerges from the hubbub of orphans dreaming of tasty meals to replace their measly ration of porridge. When he is goaded to speak for the rest, timidly asking for “more, please,” he’s banished from the seedy establishment, essentially sold to an unscrupulous couple to work in a mortuary, then escapes to life on the streets.
Familiar songs like “Glorious Food”, “Consider Yourself”, “It’s a Fine Life”, “I’d Do Anything”, and “Where Is Love”, are all solidly placed in the context of a struggling orphan boy and the roustabout vagabonds who take him in when he has no place to go.
Felicia Curry delivers a powerhouse performance as Nancy, the street walker with a heart of gold. With hefty vocals and petite athletic frame, she strides across the stage and upper planks like she owns the place. When she teams up with Rick Hammerly’s touching rendition of Fagin, they’re a duo for the ages. Hammerly brings a well-worn, tenderness to Fagin, looking out for his brood with the affection of a surrogate uncle, while mindful of the tough terrain they’re all living in. His “Reviewing the Situation” is reflective, with sprinkles of desperation—priceless. Curry’s showstopper, “As Long As He Needs Me” returns in reprise and thanks to her, we truly can’t get enough.
Also a stand-out is up and coming Jake Foster a nimble-legged Artful Dodger and one to look out for in future professional productions.
I’ve unexpectedly caught so many performances of Greg Twomey that he must think I’m stalking him, from Memphis to Petite Rouge. This time, he disappears into the role of smack down-meanie Bill Sykes with eerie effectiveness.
Costumes by Julie Potter run the gamut of beautifully tailored waistcoats for the men, including a sumptuously designed cape, the obligatory top hats, and intricately laced corsets for the ladies with delicately layered and tiered fan-tailed skirts. Significant thought and effort went into the overall look and design of the production, including sophisticated projections by Sarah Tundermann and the innovative set Douglas Clarke with a curved stair case leading to an upper walkway used for full effect.
Live music included a cello, percussion, and an astonishingly good violinist, Siena Sanchez-O’Brien. There was even a tuba player on site for the Oom-pah number that opened the second act to terrific effect. Top class choreography by Rachel Leigh Dolan set the tone with rugged, percussive routines depicting a hard life. Dancers cut up a storm, especially Kyle Louviere a triple threat, who hoisted Curry on his shoulders, performed exquisite barrel turns with leaps galore, and also harmonized in a lovely baritone—he is definitely one to be on the look out for so you can say, you saw him when.
Not for the squeamish, the show will evoke a shudder or two even in some hearty souls at it depicts the cruel conditions of dreary Victorian London filled with depravity and scary characters.
July 24 – August 16
Adventure Theatre at
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $35 – $45
Details and Tickets
Children hear worse events in the news, but they just might need a little extra preparation as Oliver’s journeys take him through the underbelly of London town. It’s a lot to see a beloved character bludgeoned right in front of you—sorry if that’s a spoiler, but it doesn’t fit as “family/children’s theater” for me. The audience reacts with a shocked silence trying to come to grips with the finality of it—that and gunshots pushed the maturity factor well into ‘tween territory for me so parents should be forewarned, especially about front row seating. Conscientious choices by the director to emphasize the gritty realism of a tough life are commendable and laudable but disturbing nonetheless.
That said, hats off to Adventure Theatre MTC for expanding its high caliber repertory into two-act productions. Oliver! is a fascinating hybrid, a sort of bridge between children’s/family theatre and young adult entertainment, leaning heavily toward the latter. Given full artistic freedom, Ritsch captures the energy and excitement of young performers and immerses them in confidently executed scenes for the times of their lives. It’s thrilling to witness such a bold approach, even it makes you wonder at times if it’s just a little too much, too soon.
Oliver! . Book, Music and Lyrics by Lionel Bart . Directed by Joseph Ritsch . Featuring Franco Cabanas, Rick Hammerly, Felicia Curry, Melynda Burdette, Sean Elias, Elise Kowalick, Kyle Louviere, Jennie Lutz Danny Pushkin, Melrose Pyne, Keith Richards, Greg Twomey, Rick Westerkamp, Marni Ratner Whalen, Jake Foster, Sam Cornbrooks, Kendall Jones, Josephine Matta, Elias Rodriguez, Donathan Arnold, John Ray, Charlotte “Lottie” Doughty, Arya Balian, Henry Niepoetter, Kevin Grieco, Taylor Rand, and Nadia Gaylin.
Musical Director: William Yanesh . Asst. Director: Ryan Haase . Choreographer: Rachel Leigh Dolan . Set Designer: Douglas Clarke . Lighting Designer: Martha Mountain . Costume Designer: Julie Potter . Sound Designer: Eric Shimelonis . Props Designer: Andrea “Dre” Moore . Projections Designer: Sarah Tundermann . Fight Choreographer: Jenny Male . Dialect Coach: Emily Zickler . Stage Manager: Ellison Roberts, assisted by Katie Bucher . Produced by Adventure Theatre MTC . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.