Oliver! – Review by Tom Nissley

A superb production of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver” is playing at the Goodspeed Opera House. Directed by Rob Ruggiero, with musical direction by Michael O’Flaherty, this musical remake of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” begins in the London orphanage and workhouse where young Oliver (Elijah Rayman) had his only care until the day he dared to ask for more gruel at lunchtime and caused a commotion that got him sold off to be an Undertaker’s Assistant. Then he briefly dipped into illicit independence in Fagin’s family of cheerful pickpockets, and finally ended up reunited with his real mother’s family. That’s the plot, but the musical only works when a cast of characters plays out the roles that define it, and they have been beautifully chosen for this show. Besides Oliver (Elijah Rayman), there’s the Beedle, Mr. Bumble (Richard R. Henry); his cohort, the Widow Corney (Joy Hermalyn); Fagin (Donald Corren); the Artful Dodger (a capricious and talented Gavin Swartz); Nancy (E J Zimmerman); Bill Sykes (Brandon Andrus); Mr. Brownlow, Oliver’s grandfather (James Young); and the Brownlow’s housekeeper, Mrs. Bediwn (a Goodspeed favorite, Karen Murphy).

With their help, the story is well told, and each of them is well defined. Fagin is delightfully conniving – showing a certain element of love for his young charges, but disciplining them to steal with stealth, and keeping his own private retirement box a secret. The Artful Dodger is adept. Nancy is the epitome of the abused partner, and Bill Sykes the epitome of an abuser.

It’s totally satisfying to watch Mr. Brownlow discover that the boy who was arrested for trying to take his handkerchief is really his own flesh and blood – made more so by Mrs. Bedwin’s care and ministrations.

Michael Schwiekhart’s static set works well to represent the workhouse, the underbelly den of Fagin’s boys, London Bridge, and other spots, and is a quiet background for the colors of Alejo Vietti’s costumes, well set off by John Lasiter’s lighting design.

Each wonderful musical number is accompanied by its own movements; the bouncy ones are rewarded with expert choreography by the ensemble, as directed by James Gray. “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself at Home,” “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two,” all get remarkable dancing.

If there’s a bottom line, it’s run and get tickets while you can. “Oliver” is a great show, very well presented, and sure to please.
www.Goodspeed.org or 860-873-8668 for tickets or information.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre.

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