Oliver! Finds Happy Home on Ivoryton Playhouse Stage
By Amy J. Barry
Like a fine wine, “Oliver!” which opened on London’s West End in 1960, has continued to enjoy a long shelf life on and off Broadway, and is just one of those musicals that doesn’t lose its flavor as it ages.
Based on the Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, it’s a satisfying mix of tragedy, social commentary, and slapstick satire all tied up with a ribbon of a wonderful music score of rollicking to heart wrenching tunes by Lionel Bart (who also wrote the script and lyrics).
The small Ivoryton Playhouse has taken on this big musical under the direction of R. Bruce Connelly, who is quite familiar with the limitations of the Playhouse Stage -- if he isn’t directing one of the productions; he’s probably acting in it.
The cast tops 32 -- including lots of local talent in the numerous kids’ roles. Cully Long’s threadbare wooden staging not only sets the Victorian era mood but also allows for the actors to move about easily.
Tyler Felson is well-suited as the young orphan Oliver -- both sweet and feisty with a lovely voice showcased in “Where is Love?”
The Fagin’s Gang chorus fills in the numbers nicely, although it’s a very young group and a few post-adolescent voices would have added some depth and richness to the vocal mix. Along the same lines, the superb live orchestra directed by John DeNicola, including woodwinds, violin and French horn, could turn up the volume a few notches for a fuller sound.
Neal Mayer is clearly the show’s lightening rod as Fagin, the marvelous eccentric Dickensian character, infusing the performance with a generous jolt of energy while craftily teaching the boys to “Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation.”
T.J. Mannix plays a powerful and appropriately nasty Bill Sykes. Kimberley Morgan, as the tragic heroine Nancy, performs a majestic ”As Long As He Needs Me, ” although she moves too swiftly into the poignant love song after Bill has just beaten her to the ground, which would be comical if it wasn’t intended as such a serious scene and domestic violence was anything to laugh about.
Deep River’s Torie Chiappa is charming and self-assured as Bet, Nancy’s young sidekick.
Other notable performances include a delightfully funny “I Shall Scream” with Michael Cartwright as Mr. Bumble and Maureen Pollard as Widow Corney.
A pitch perfect “Who Will Buy?” features members of the female ensemble selling their wares on the streets of London -- one can easily imagine the beautiful morning they describe.
LisaMarie Harry does her usual magic with the ragtag costumes befitting pickpockets and Kelly Shook’s energetic choreography spices up the production.
Oliver! continues through Sept. 2 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street in Ivoryton. Tickets are available by calling 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
This review appeared in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.