Originally based on Charles Dicken’s classic Oliver Twist, British musical OLIVER! opened at Footlighters Theater this weekend. With a robust cast of over 50, the audience’s enthusiasm for the mostly youngster production did not go unnoticed. Lionel Bart’s Tony Award winning musical first premiered in London’s West End in 1960, and has been delighting audiences ever since.
Directors Carmen Rossi and Sarah Sperling had their work cut out for them with such a large cast on a small stage. To compensate, they utilized the theater aisles for some of the action. For the most part it worked, with some memorable interactive songs including the ominous “Who Will Buy?” Very much like a primary school production however, there was a general lack of commitment with much of the young chorus members, which left me wondering, why utilize so many? Why not cast those truly committed and mature enough for the production? They would have had an easier time staging with fewer choral members, and more opportunity for action on stage where it belonged. The audience is left unsure of the actual ending to the story, because the play’s conclusion is played mostly in the aisles and the back of the theater. Like the Broadway production, I was hoping for a choral finale of some of the more memorable numbers as well. Despite some awkward staging moments, overall the show was entertaining; a sure crowd-pleaser for supportive friends and family members.
Among the young ensemble, Dylan Delaney in the title role encompassed the sweet innocence of the young orphan abused and misguided by a sordid cast of characters in his impoverished surroundings. Perfectly cast, his sweet rendition of “Where is Love?” was a mark to this youngster’s rising star, if he keeps going. Matt Sheaffer as the Artful Dodger is one to keep an eye on as well; his confidence onstage and acting chops were very impressive for an eighth grader. Megan Wilson as the lovely Bet was a treat to watch as well.
Some adult actors to be recognized included Rich Lee as the bumbling Mr. Bumble, Brian Atkinson as Bill Sykes, Dave Richman in a variety of silent but supporting character roles, and the husband and wife team of Danny and Sue Scott as the sinister Sowerberrys. A clear stand-out in the adult ensemble was Jeanine Brotherston-Braack as the broken yet loving Nancy, lover to Sykes and leading mistress of the band of urchins that entice Oliver into their gang. Her professionalism and competence onstage challenged fellow actors to rise to her level. Between her command with the lively Oom Pa Pa, and her lovely rendition of As Long as He Needs Me, she was a true favorite among the cast.
This beloved musical’s recent UK revival in 2009 proved it’s a timeless tale that still enchants its audience, with memorable tunes and a distinctive cast of characters; it’s a treat the whole family can enjoy.
Book and Music by Lionel Bart
Directed by Carmen Rossi and Sarah Sperling
May 17 – June 8, 2013
58 Main Avenue