'Oliver!' – Finding a loving home at the Marriott
Ask anyone what the most famous story by Charles Dickens is, and they’ll likely say, “A Christmas Carol.” At this time of year, a number of stage adaptations of the elderly Scrooge’s night of redemption are in rehearsal or already in production in Woodstock, Chicago, and elsewhere.
But I would encourage parents to run like the Dickens with their kids to see a different tale: Oliver!, now showing at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through the end of the year.
Oliver!, a musical version of “Oliver Twist,” made its London debut in 1960, and its initial Broadway production in 1963 ran for 774 performances, receiving 10 Tony Award nominations, winning three, including the Best Composer and Lyricist (Lionel Bart). A 1968 film adaptation garnered 11 Oscar nominations; one of the Oscars it won was for Best Picture, beating Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Romeo and Juliet, and Rachel, Rachel.
The story centers around a young boy in the 1800s who was born and still lives in a workhouse where gruel is on the menu and life is also grueling. Oliver, played endearingly by 8-year-old Kai Edgar in the Sunday matinee performance I attended (Kayden Koshelev shares the role), dares to ask the Beadle who runs the workhouse, Mr. Bumble (Matthew R. Jones), for more food.
That simple request, viewed by Bumble as an act of insubordination, sets the plot in motion as Oliver becomes a “Boy for Sale,” initially being purchased by a crude undertaker and his wife until Oliver runs away to the heart of London. It is there that he’s befriended by a slightly older boy known as “The Artful Dodger” (Patrick Scott McDermott at the performance I saw, Nolan Maddox at others).
Dodger and other boys, under the tutelage of an elderly thief named Fagin (William Brown), are pickpockets. Fagin is definitely a criminal, but one who cares – to an extent – about his young associates. The same cannot be said for Bill Sikes (Dan Waller), a former pickpocket who has grown up to be adept at stealing larger items (e.g., silver candlesticks). Exuding a sense of quiet menace, Sikes has little patience for Fagin or the pickpockets, or even his loving wife, Nancy (Lucy Godinez), who takes a liking to the sweet boy now in Fagin’s environment. Will Oliver ever find happiness?
At the Marriott, their largest-ever cast features some outstanding performers, with Godinez at the head of the line. When she sings “As Long As He Needs Me,” referring to her love for her cruel, quick-tempered husband, you sense every part of the battle between her brain and her heart. When she tries to help Oliver, you see her maternal instincts in every aspect of her voice and body language.
Brown, meanwhile, embodies Fagin in all his complexity: feeling his age, afraid of the potential for violence in Sikes, fearful of his pickpocket gang being discovered, and genuinely fond of Dodger, Nancy, Oliver, and others. “Reviewing the Situation” is an amusing stream-of-consciousness song Fagin does in the second act, and Brown sinks believable teeth into that solo number.
And anyone who doesn’t find their heartstrings tugged for Oliver after hearing Edgar’s plaintive, beautifully sung rendition of “Where Is Love?” is either not paying attention or needs to see a cardiologist to determine if their heart has hardened.
If you haven’t been to the Marriott Theatre before, be advised that its shows are performed in the round with cast members constantly entering or exiting down aisles between the four sections, and with actors and staff moving set pieces during scene changes. So it’s best you stay in your seat – which you may occasionally be on the edge of – until intermission or until the show is over, lest you find yourself literally bumping into someone.
This is a perfect show for families looking for something fun to do during holiday breaks or remaining 2019 weekends. Spoiler parental alert: at least one of the characters dies, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of bringing very young children.
Suffice it to say that Director Nick Bowling and Music Director Ryan T. Nelson, with the help of a talented cast and staff, have taken Oliver!, a show with classic songs (e.g., “Consider Yourself,” “Food, Glorious Food,” “Pick a Pocket or Two,” “I’d Do Anything,” “Oliver!”) and a Dickensian plot, and given it what Oliver Twist himself is seeking: a loving home.