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‘Oliver!’ Soars with Humanity and Heart!

In the fervent melee at the opening of Marriott Theatre’s splendid new revival of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” something truly wonderful pops up out of nowhere.

That would be the pint-sized powerhouse Kai Edgar, an 8-year-old heartbreaker who barely looks eye-to-eye to a yardstick. Young Edgar is measured here by a crystal-clear vocal range and a captivating presence—in the title role that he shares with Kayden Koshelev—surrounded by a colossal company jam-packed with talent. Under the direction of Nick Bowling with choreographer Brenda Didier and music director Ryan T. Nelson, Marriott’s ”Oliver!” soars with humanity and heart!

Consider yourself at home with the familiar story set in the seedy underbelly and at the upper-crust tables of 19th-century London. The aging petty criminal Fagin, played by William Brown in a quietly commanding performance, harbors a cadre of spirited pickpockets to do his daily bidding. The ensemble of 18 boys—the centerpiece of the largest cast ever at Marriott—are led by the “Artful Dodger,” a plum role for Patrick Scott McDermott (and Nolan Maddox in some performances). The boys pledge unflinching loyalty to Fagin and have genuine affection for the high-spirited Nancy, an impassioned and vocally rich turn for Lucy Godinez. Keeping everyone on edge is the sinister Bill Sikes—Dan Waller at his devious best—whose abusive control leads to tragic consequences.

Bowling’s strong and skillful attention to the story elements revolving around the child welfare standards of the day unfolds as Oliver is first proffered from the decrepit situation of the orphanage run by Mr. Bumble (Matthew R. Jones) and Mrs. Corney (Bethany Thomas) to the isolation of a funeral parlor, run by the Sowerberrys (Jason Grimm and Caron Buinis). Oliver’s escape begins a rags-to-riches journey of discovery on the streets of London. Along the way he learns about the true meaning of sacrifice, acceptance and love, which is layered in the lush, poignant and troubled middle by the talented Godinez, whose Nancy is protector, survivor and then martyred champion.

The strength of Bart’s epic work—he wrote the book, music and lyrics—is in the grand-scale production numbers and soul-searching ballads here brilliantly crafted by Nelson and beautifully staged by Didier in the Marriott’s round configuration. Among the many highlights are Oliver’s acceptance by Dodger and the boys in “Consider Yourself,” the Brown-led “You’ve Got to Pick A Pocket or Two,” and Edgar and company in “Who Will Buy.” Godinez leads three terrific numbers—“It’s A Fine Life,” “I’d Do Anything” and “Oom-Pah-Pah”—and gives the most powerful singular performance of the night in “As Long as He Needs Me.”

The orchestra falls under the expert direction of Patti Garwood. The firm footing of Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s multi-level wrought iron inspired set design with Jesse Klug’s lighting evokes the London streets and inner dwellings of the time, replete with texturally rich, and appropriately distressed, period-perfect costumes by Sally Dolembo, which allow the finely chiseled Dickens characters to come to glorious life in Marriott’s “Oliver!”