Oliver! – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

A humble, sincere and polite request from a poor orphan boy for a second helping of gruel, “please, sir, I want some more,” starts a series of events that affect the lad in question, one hungry Oliver Twist. Those adventures, that speed along like a roller coaster ride, are captured in their entirety by Lionel Bart’s wonderful family musical ”Oliver!” taking center stage at Goodspeed Musicals, now extended by popular demand until Thursday, September 13. Based on the Charles Dickens story, it is set in England in the 1830’s and Dickens wanted to highlight the deplorable conditions children faced when they were forced to earn a living, as he hoped to change child labor laws.

When Oliver has the audacity to ask, politely, for another bowl of gruel, his reward is to be booted out of his pitiful workhouse home and sold by Mr. Bumble (Richard R. Henry) and his soon-to-be wife the Widow Corney (Joy Hermalyn). The lad soon finds himself in the employ of a Mr. Sowerberry (Jamie LaVerdiere) and his sour wife (Karen Murphy), the owners of a funeral parlor and made to be a child mourner following the caskets through the streets.

Have no fear, for the lad in question, one resourceful Oliver Twist, a heart stealing Elijah Rayman, soon runs away and lands, for better or worse, in a den of enterprising thieves. He has been rescued off the streets by a resourceful Artful Dodger, Gavin Swartz, who introduces Oliver to the art of pick pocketing and the gang of thieves headed by a genial Donald Corren as Fagin, a kind hearted Nancy, a nurturing EJ Zimmerman, and a terrifying Brandon Andrus as Bill Sikes who is proud to have fear as his middle name.

The troupe of young thieves takes Oliver in but he is soon caught in the act and his fate bounces around like a ping-pong ball in a fast game of table tennis. A compassionate Mr. Brownlow (James Young), Oliver’s first victim, gives Oliver a second chance but the long dark shadow of Bill Sikes looms large.

Thanks to an energetic and talented cast our spunky hero overcomes all obstacles, buying himself a beautiful morning and a wonderful life. Fagin does a fine job “Reviewing the Situation,” Oliver sings a soulful “Where is Love?” and Nancy declares her faithfulness to Bill in “As Long As He Needs Me.” Be aware that there are many dark moments that may be inappropriate for young children. Rob Ruggiero directs this adventurous tale with skill and compassion, with spirited musical direction by Michael O’Flaherty and lively choreography by James Gray.

For tickets ($29 and up ), call Goodspeed Musicals at 860-873-8668 or visit the website at www.goodspeed.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Join Oliver Twist in a London of more than a century and a half ago as he learns the fine art of being a thief from the master himself, Fagin, and his right hand boy The Artful Dodger. Witness that despite the dark shadows, Oliver finds hope and love and happiness. Consider yourself part of the family!