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Highly Recommended 'Oliver!'

Highly Recommended! ★★★★★

In my past, I was an actor, so when I am reviewing a production of a play that I performed in, I often enter the theater with some high expectations. Not just of the character that I played, but of the entire production – overture to finale! “Oliver!”, the musical version of Charles Dickens, “Oliver Twist” with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart would count in this list. The Marriott Theatre production under the direction of the fabulous Nick Bowling, who has become an ace in doing musicals in-the-round is slick and extremely well cast. I know there are people who might say,” I have seen this play before”, BUT they have not seen this sharp and intimate version, so they will be in for a huge surprise!

For those of you who do not know the story of Oliver Twist, it takes place in Victorian England. At that time the population had two classes, the haves and the have-nots. Oliver is an orphan who lives in a workhouse run by Mrs. Corney ( an incredible job by Bethany Thomas) and Mr. Bumble ( deftly handled by Matthew R. Jones). Their relationship is one of hate and humor. Yes, in spite of who they are, they are the comic characters. Oliver ( played tonight by the adorable Kai Edgar/alternately by Kayden Koshelev) is taken away from the workhouse and sold to an undertaker. He runs away and meets the Artful Dodger (Patrick Scott McDermott with the exception of some Sunday performances is dynamite). I must say that the young talent on the stage is powerful. Turns out Dodger works for Fagin ( William Brown is incredible as this money- grubbing leader of a gang of crooks- the role that I played over 20 years ago).

As the story goes on, Oliver gets nabbed on a day in the park, gets jailed, released to an older gentleman, who as it turns out is in reality, his grandfather and he has a happy ending. Fagin gets away, but without all his fortune and the other bad guy, Bill Sikes (Dan Waller) meets his destiny at the end of the play. They did cut his solo out of this production and I understand why. It is a rough song dealing with what damage he does or can do to others. Besides the “boys” in his gang, who also play the workhouse boys in the opening number: Luke Chichester, Pierce Cleaveland, Conner Henry Daley, Zachary Scott Fewkes, Milo J. Flores, Gabriel Gabor, Cole Keriazakos, Ryder Kirby, Nolan Maddox, Brennan Monaghan, Hogan Porter, Jonathan Z. Protus, Landon Simecek, Trey Thompson, Emmett O. Victorson, and the two Oliver’s switching off on their “off-nights”, we have Nancy, Sikes girlfriend played to perfection by Lucy Godinez who just keeps showing us her range and a powerful ensemble made up of Mark David Kaplan, Terry Hamilton, Max DeTonge, Elizabeth Telford, Emily Agy, Cassie Slater, Ziare Paul-Emile, Caron Buinis, Aubry Adams, Lexis Danca, Gilbert Domally, Kelly Felthouse, Jason Grimm, Michael Haws, Matthew R. Jones and Liam Quealy. This is a huge cast that truly fills the Marriott stage.

The musical numbers in this show are powerful and yet, there are only a few that truly stand alone- “Where Is Love” (young Kai Edgar truly has a wonderful voice and a great stage presence), “As Long As He Needs Me” ( Godinez hits it out of the park with her powerful voice. “It’s A Fine Life”, “Consider Yourself” ( McDermott as Dodger does a great job with his sparkling personality and the wonderful staging of “Who Will Buy”. The majority of the other songs are to move the story along and while they all are performed well, these are the ones that you might hum on the way home ( and for days after). By the way, Brown does Fagin’s “Reviewing The Situation” with just the right touch!

Being an in-the-round stage, sets are somewhat difficult to create as someone will surely get blocked if you do too much. While Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set is incredible and slick, the one scene where there was a problem was the undertaker scene as the coffins ( which I know are important) made it hard for section three rows B and C to se a portion of the scene. Perhaps they can take the bottom of the coffin stand out and save those inches. Sally Dolembo’s costumes are incredible and the lighting ( Jesse Klug) and sound (Robert E. Gilmartin) as always perfect. The props (Sally Zack) are an amazing assortment and all just right. The choreography is handled by the incredible Brenda Didier who does some amazing things with the opening of Act Two with “Oom-Pah-Pah” and as always the musical direction is by the skilled Ryan T. Neslon and the orchestra is conducted by Patti Garwood.

If you love this musical, you will love it even more! If you do not love this musical, you owe it to yourself to see this production, a sit will change your mind. It is slick, sweet, funny and at 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission , a pleasure to experience.