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Who Will Buy tickets to Marriott's 'Oliver!'? Anyone desiring a truly entertaining evening.

<p>There is something truly  wonderful about <em>Oliver!</em>, Lionel Bart’s musical take on  Charles Dickens’ <em>Oliver Twist</em>, that has long  made
           it one of my very favorite  shows. Whether light and bouncy (“I’d Do Anything,” “Consider  Yourself”), pensive (“Where Is Love?” “Boy For Sale,”
           broadly comical  (“Oom-Pah-Pah”) or dark (“As Long As He Needs Me,” “Oliver!”)  this is a musical of many moods that, done well, can’t fail to  entertain.
           Add to this an eight-time Jeff  Award-winning director (Nick Bowling) and a stellar cast that includes  luminaries like William Brown and Bethany
           Thomas as well as talented  younger stars like Lucy Godinez and a host of child actors led by Patrick  Scott McDermott’s Artful Dodger and Oliver
           himself, played by Kai Edgar  and Kayden Koshelev, and you have the foundation of a truly enjoyable  evening.</p>
<p>Jeffrey Kmiec’s clever  set design on Marriott’s iconic theatre-in-the-square stage gives Bowling  plenty to work with as set dressing far more complex
           than that usually seen here  comes and goes in precision transitions all night long and actors populate  every available space. The opening moments
           set up what we will be  seeing, as an elaborate upper-class dinner greets the audience, which then  becomes aware of the ragged group of workhouse
           orphans trudging dolefully  in. They march on past the stage with its elaborate meal, only to stand in one  aisle, tongues hanging out, singing about
           their dreams of having  plentiful amounts of “Food, Glorious Food.” Finally, they can’t hold  back any longer and rush the stage in a fantasy food
           orgy that chases off the  wealthy diners and seamlessly leads to them all seated at the long table with  bowls of gruel. </p>
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<p>It’s a brilliant bit  of staging that dives right into Dickens’ world of haves and have-nots, and  when tiny Oliver asks for more, the expectations of
           both worlds collide, causing  Mr. Bumble (Matthew R. Jones) to take him off and sell him for three pounds.  Jones is wonderful in this role whether
           demanding obedience of the  orphans or flirting with Thomas’s Mrs. Corney. But of course things go  wrong out in the real world and Oliver ends up
           falling in with a gang of  pickpockets working for Brown’s Fagin. Brown is a gentler, more loving  Fagin than some I have seen, which makes it all
           the more understandable that  this tribe of lost boys gravitate to him. His tender touch in welcoming  Oliver to the gang meshes well with his almost
           childlike fondness for the  jewels he is hoarding against the need for a quick getaway and his thoughtful  rendition of “Reviewing the Situation.”
<p>It’s Godinez’s work  as Nancy that really stands out here, though. She commands the stage singing  both raucous songs and plaintive ones, and she manages
           the nearly impossible trick of  convincing us that she actually cares for the demonic Bill Sikes (Dan  Waller), of whom even Fagin is justifiably
           afraid. (Waller is indeed  menacing in the role.) Nancy, among all of the characters, is really the only  one (with the possible exception of Fagin)
           allowed to have multiple  layers, and Godinez works her way through all of them beautifully. All the  rest of the characters, from Oliver to Bumble
           to Sikes to Terry  Hamilton’s gentle Mr. Brownlow, live for the most part on the surface of  their character descriptions. (This is how they are
           written, not any comment  about the actors, who are universally wonderful.) But Nancy, the thief with a  heart of gold, has more depth than any of
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<p>I have always felt that  the climactic scenes of the musical are not at all paced well&mdash;very  serious matters occur far too abruptly&mdash;and Bowling
           can’t really help that, but  in every other way this is a dynamite production. With an army of talented  children at the core of the largest cast
           in Marriott’s history, it  is also extremely energetic, as choreographer Brenda Didier utilizes all of  their vitality to make every scene with them
           really pop. And McDermott and  Edgar (the boy I saw playing the title role) are terrific. This is truly  appropriately youthful casting, and Bowling
           found in these actors exactly  what he needed whether it was Edgar’s sheer innocence magnifying every  emotion or McDermott’s cagey and clever (but
           still <em>so</em>  childlike) take on one of Dickens’s most memorable characters.  </p>
<p>Even though its dark  side is less extreme than you’d expect with abuse, theft, and even murder  in its center, this <em>Oliver!</em> is solidly  entertaining.
           Bowling and Marriott have a  wonderfully uplifting show that can rival the holiday-themed productions that  pop up all over town this time of year.
           A trip up to Lincolnshire to  see this show will make anyone’s life just a little bit  finer.</p>