A Rather Fine Twist: Marriott's 'Oliver!' Will -- for the Most Part -- Have You Asking for More
Despite a magnificent score featuring several of the most delightful songs ever written for musical theater—“Food Glorious Food,” “Oliver,” “Consider Yourself,” “I’d Do Anything,” “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” “It’s a Fine Life,” “I’d Do Anything,” “Reviewing the Situation”—Oliver resides, in my mind, a notch or two below other brilliant classics of the Broadway canon.
This is in part due to somewhat ponderous pacing early on—more pronounced in the 1968 movie version, which actually won the Oscar for Best Picture—but primarily due to one other song by Lionel Bart, who wrote the show’s music, lyrics and book, based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.
Coming early in Act II is a song sung by Nancy, a young woman who is part of Fagin’s gang that the orphaned child Oliver falls in with in London.
While warm, even maternal towards Oliver, she is the girlfriend of the malevolent Bill Sikes, a particularly nasty but criminally successful confederate of Fagin’s. After Bill hits Nancy, she sings—and at Marriott, as delivered by Lucy Godinez, exceptionally well—a Stand By Your Mannish tune called “As Long As He Needs Me.”
Perhaps in 1830’s London (when Dickens wrote and set Oliver Twist) or even 1960 London (when the musical premiered in the West End), mores were somewhat different.
But I've hated that song since I saw a touring version of the show in 2004, and amid the #MeToo movement, it really feels ugly and obtuse (though musically, it’s beautiful).
So that—and the whole Bill/Nancy relationship, which actually devolves from there—is why I’ve never absolutely loved Oliver, even as I relished most of the songs.
This holds for a remarkably good production at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, under the direction of Nick Bowling.
A terrific cast—headed by young Kai Edgar in the title role at Wednesday’s Press Night; he alternates with Kayden Koshelev—wonderfully delivers all of the aforementioned songs and more, including “Where Is Love?” on which the 8-year-old Edgar shows formidable vocal chops.
William Brown makes for a fine Fagin, even if the gentleman sitting next to me didn’t find him menacing enough. I truly enjoyed his take on “Reviewing the Situation.”
The seemingly teenage Patrick Scott McDermott is a rather nifty Artful Dodger, and along with Godinez as Nancy, I really liked Ziare Paul-Emile as her friend Bet.
Marriott vets Bethany Thomas and Terry Hamilton are strong as Mrs. Corney and Mr. Brownlow, while Dan Waller is good as bad Bill Sikes.
And with at least a dozen young boys delivering a delectable “Food Glorious Food” to open the show, the vast ensemble cast comprised of kids and grown-ups is demonstrably superb.
In sum, even in a well-staged production that makes fine use of Marriott’s intimate, in-the-round Oliver still has its inherent issues. Along with “As Long As He Needs Me”—though Godinez’ rendition and reprise merited the lavish applause bestowed, including by me—I could also do without an early “flirtation” scene between the orphanage’s Mr. Bumble (Matthew R. Jones) and Mrs. Corney, which doesn’t do much besides hamper the pacing.
But so many of Bart’s songs are absolute delights—“Consider Yourself” and “I’ll Do Anything” especially had me humming along happily.
And how can you not like a show with so many talented kids?
So although Bowling’s production doesn’t overcome or circumvent the points of aversion I entered with, it renders them what they are: troublesome moments in an otherwise fantastic musical.
Consider yourself advised. Oliver isn’t perfect, but this excellent iteration at Marriott Theatre should provide young and old with a Dickens of a good time.