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Marriott’s ‘Oliver!’ a Delightful Holiday Alternative

When it comes to musical theater, it’s usually a safe bet that a production with a large children’s ensemble will draw patrons to the seats. Shows like Annie, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The King and I all feature a large number of child performers and all typically do well at the box office.

Currently being staged by Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Oliver! also fits the bill to a T.

Featuring music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, Oliver! is an adaptation of the book “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens. Set in the 1800’s, it follows the story of a nine-year old orphan named Oliver Twist who is sold into indentured servitude only to run away and stumble into a life of crime with a collection of child pickpockets overseen by a grizzly old criminal who goes by the name of Fagin.

After running away from the mortuary he had been sold to by the orphanage, Oliver is befriended by the Artful Dodger – arguably the best child thief in the business. Dodger introduces Oliver to Fagin, who skillfully persuades the young orphan to join his army of thieving street urchins.

“Oliver Twist” was conceived, in part, to draw attention to the disparity in classes in Victorian England. While the first act exposes us to layer under layer of life in the gutter, later in the story we get to see how the other half lives.

Marriott Theatre has long distinguished itself as one of the premier musical theater venues in the Chicago area. Setting them apart from other top Midwest theaters is the fact that Marriott Theatre productions are presented in a theater-in-the-round format.

Oliver! is not a musical that easily translates to theater-in-the-round. Director Nick Bowling and choreographer Brenda Didier do their best to keep the action within view of all audience members at all times, but it is a challenge.

Bowling’s overall concept of painting the world of the story as if seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old, is beautifully conveyed by the strong ensemble cast. Dialect coach Kathy Logelin also distinguishes herself.

In the title role, Kai Edgar and Kayden Koshelev alternate performances. For press night, Edgar provided just the right amount of adorable charm and promising talent in his professional debut.

Patrick Scott McDermott is well cast as the Artful Dodger. In addition to fine song and dance skills, McDermott has a winning charisma that permeates the room. You can’t help but like him.

In the book, Fagin is a despicable old wretch. For the musical, the character is made far more comedic. William Brown offers an interpretation informed by the classic text. While dark, the way Brown approaches the role is very enjoyable to watch. He truly knows how to command a stage.

Once inducted into a life of crime, Oliver is introduced to such other ambassadors of the back alleys as adult members of Fagin’s gang Nancy and her frightening mate, Bill Sikes.

Like Brown’s Fagin, Lucy Godinez’s Nancy is a bit darker than most productions, but it works – and works well. Godinez is exquisite in her ability to generate a wide range of emotions and seductively invite the audience to care about her world.

Traditionally, the character of Bill Sykes is a physically imposing man. In the Marriott production, Dan Waller doesn’t possess a lot of size, but he still manages to be imposing by carrying a hostile level of tension in his voice and body. Every nerve in his body is on high alert at all times: a power that could turn deadly if ever released. You wouldn’t want to tangle with him!

In the supporting roles of Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble, proprietors of the workhouse that sells off young Oliver in the beginning of the story, Bethany Thomas and Matthew R. Jones are incredible. At their best playing off of each other, both actors are captivating storytellers with superior voices. They are capable of great depth of character, yet can easily move from drama to comedy with perfect timing.

Music director Ryan T. Nelson has done an excellent job developing and blending the ensemble’s voices. Featuring the largest cast ever on the Marriott Theatre stage, Oliver! stands out musically. The orchestra is wonderfully directed.

The orphans and thieves are played by Luke Chichester, Pierce Cleaveland, Connor Henry Daley, Milo J. Flores, Gabriel Gabor, Zachary Scott Fewkes, Cole Keriazakos, Ryder Kirby, Nolan Maddox, Brennan Monaghan, Hogan Porter, Jonathan Z. Protus, Landon Simecek, Trey Thompson, and Emmett O. Victorson.

If you are tired of seeing A Christmas Carol every year and want to celebrate the holiday season with another Dickens classic, consider adding Marriott Theatre’s Oliver! to your plans. You won’t be disappointed. Watching these performers entertain is as good as the thrill of opening any present under the tree.