The Off Broad Street Players latest production, OLIVER!, Lionel Bart’s musical setting of the classic Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, is a showcase of talent of both young and seasoned local actors. The cast of nearly 50, the majority of which are youth, brings a delightful energy to the stage!
OLIVER! follows the story of young orphan boy Oliver Twist as he navigates the streets of early 1800s London, from a workhouse, to a den of pickpockets, to where he ultimately, truly belongs. Along this route he encounters a number of characters each with their own unique set of circumstances.
OLIVER! is a show where, even if you’ve never seen it, you’ll recognize some of the tunes as they have been borrowed over the years by various advertising campaigns. A case in point is the opening number, “Food, Glorious Food”. During this number, we are introduced to Oliver (Jordan Severino), and the rest of the orphans in the workhouse. It is here that Oliver asks that famous question of the workhouse owner Mr. Bumble (Calvin Cobb), “Please sir, may I have some more?” This leads Mr. Bumble and his romantic interest, the Widow Corney (Lea Weiner), to conspire to remove him from the workhouse.
Cobb and Weiner ably play the comic bunglers. Cobb’s vocals are also nice, save for a slight issue in the song “Boy for Sale”. Weiner has a nice change between coy widow and overbearing wife.
Oliver’s next stop is as an errand boy for the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry (David Halter) and his wife (Meghan Moses). He also encounters their maid Charlotte (Chrissie Capece), and comes to a head with one of Sowerberry’s other employees, Noah Claypool (Taylor Brody). Both Halter’s and Moses’ characters are spot on. They are both funny and have excellent vocals.
The pacing up to this point in the show is a little off and the energy a little low. But hang in there, things are about to get exciting!
After escaping a bad situation at the undertaker’s, Oliver finds himself wandering the streets of London. He soon encounters the smooth talking Artful Dodger (Scott Bonerbo), who convinces him to come and meet Fagin (Doug Eppler). It is here you’ll encounter another very well-known song, “Consider Yourself”.
Fagin tell his boys that to make their living they’ve “…Got to Pick a Pocket or Two”. Fagin invites Oliver to join them and he shows Oliver the ropes.
Bonerbo is so smooth and entertaining as Dodger and clearly possesses experience far beyond what one would expect of an eighth grader. He and Severino both work magic in the song “Consider Yourself” and serve as an example of the wonderful youth talent available out there in the community! They are two of the four actors that anchor this production.
Severino as the title character really draws the audience in. He masterfully switches between the aggressive and sometimes fearless Oliver and the young boy desperately seeking to find a home.
The third anchor is Eppler, who is absolutely mesmerizing as Fagin. From his unfailing physical embodiment, to a characterization that openly invites the audience into his mind and soul, he totally commands the stage and drives the production forward.
We are also introduced in this scene to the fourth anchor of the show, Nancy (Lisa Heney). Nancy grew up with Fagin and still considers herself part of the family of the boys, while making her own way in the world. Heney’s strong character and vocals really win over the audience from the get-go. Her zest for life along with her love of the hard-nosed and sometimes violent Bill Sykes (Tony Baldasari), provides quite an interesting dichotomy. Baldasari for his part plays a thoroughly unlikeable Sykes, though I could have wished for just a hint of humanity to flesh out the character.
Some of the big music and dance numbers in the show are quite impressive, especially with so many young people on the stage. Their enthusiasm clearly shows! Many of them do a great job with challenging choreography.
A special mention goes out to the “sellers” in the song “Who Will Buy?” The vocal blending and harmonies is superb! It brought a rousing applause from the audience, as it should have. Well done!
The cast may be loaded with young actors, but make no mistake, OLIVER! is not a kids show. It does contain some adult themes and definitely some violence. My 12 year-old daughter, a budding reviewer in her own right, was able to handle the show fine but expressed a concern that elementary school-aged children might not find it suitable. So be mindful of that.
Overall, while there are some pacing, pitch, and tech problems throughout the show, the Off Broad Street Players production of OLIVER! is a solid production. It is always great to see a monumental effort being put forth by a talented group of individuals in the community. It’s an even nicer treat to have a show accompanied by a live orchestra, something that is becoming rare in community theatre. And, as always, the beauty and glamor of The Levoy Theatre is the icing on the cake. What a gem Cumberland County has in both the Levoy and the Off Broad Street Players!
This is the final weekend of the show, so get there before it is gone. The run time is two hours and 25 minutes (with intermission).
Music, Lyrics, and Book by Lionel Bart
Stage and Musical Direction by Walter A. Webster
Choreography by Kristina Ganotta
Set Design and Construction by Envision Productions
Lighting Design by Marybeth Thierolf
Sound Design by Arsenal Sound
November 14 – 23, 2014
Off Broad Street Players at
The Levoy Theatre
126-130 N High St.