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Consider Yourself Seeing Marriott Theatre's 'Oliver!'

The first time I ever saw Oliver!, it was the 1960s movie version. I saw it at one of those old-timey theaters where an “old” guy (this was the 1980s and I was a wee lad, so the organist very well could’ve been a pimply teen keyboard prodigy and I’d have still pegged him as a geezer) played the pipe organ and they showed “old” movies (I remember seeing Laurel and Hardy there, too) and it was supposed to make you feel like it was the good-old days. Well, I know I didn’t recall much of the plot, but that Oliver!’s characters and musical numbers sure made a big impression — a big enough impression that my reintroduction to them, all these years later, by the Marriott Theatre’s current production, made it feel like being reacquainted with shabby old Cockney chums on the Victorian London streets in which they make their questionable livings.

When my date for the night, my six-year-old daughter who’s already a Broadway kinda gal, asked me what Oliver! was about, I told her it was “Annie with boys.” That explanation appeased her beforehand, and it made even more sense as we watched the show, because in Oliver!, it’s the kids who do the heavy lifting. From the opening number, “Food, Glorious Food,” the urchins whose lives are spent in either the poorhouse or on the London streets are the focus whenever they’re onstage. And the boys (and yes, unlike Annie’s female orphans, these kids are all male), despite their coal-smudged cheeks and their ratty rags and hand-me-down threads, light up the stage whenever they take it, especially in big numbers like the afore-mentioned “Food, Glorious Food,” as well as “Consider Yourself” and “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.”

The two young stars of the play do as much shining as any of their peers. In the performance I saw, Kayden Koshelev played the eponymous orphan (he’ll be alternating performances with Kai Edgar). Koshelev is a little guy, tiny in comparison even to the other kids. But that makes him stand out, actually, and makes the audience care for him even more. Patrick Scott McDermott’s Artful Dodger steals each scene he’s in, his Cockney accent on point, his top hat held high, his eyes twinkling through the gloom and doom of his homeless, criminal existence.

And the adults who force this existence on their youthful stage mates are every bit their younger peers’ equals. In the movie version, I remember being terrified of Fagin. But in this production, William Brown brings the heart he recently brought to Into the Woods — sure he’s a crook and takes advantage of the boys who are his wards, but he’s a vulnerable villain. The same cannot be said for Dan Waller’s Bill Sikes; I wish Waller had a bigger part, because while he wasn’t the imposing figure, size-wise, I remember the film Sikes being, Waller’s demeanor and attire sure made a dark impression. Matthew R. Jones’ Mr. Bumble was also a daunting adult for the poor kids to deal with, although he was allowed some humor thanks to Bethany Thomas’ Mrs. Corney (Thomas, too, displays her range, this time as a character actress after carrying the recent Into the Woods).

But it was yet another star from Into the Woods who shined brightest in Oliver! — Lucy Godinez’s Nancy. Godinez starred, of course, as Little Red Riding Hood, and helped make that production. But, if it’s possible, she’s even better here, showing just as much warmth as Brown’s Fagin for the ragamuffins, and providing the highlight of the show with her take on “As Long as He Needs Me” — her performance of that song alone will have me looking for any future productions she’s in.

So, just like the film version’s plot made little impression on a little me, while its cast and music did, I can say the same for the Marriott Theatre’s current production of Oliver! — come for the charming Cockney characters and the tunes, glorious tunes. You won’t leave with an empty belly.