by Terrance Mc Arthur
I have to say it: Oliver! is a Dickens of a good show.
From Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Lionel Bart fashioned the musical Oliver! which opened in London in 1960, toured the USA in 1962, and opened on Broadway in 1963. Now, it is a Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through July 19.
Now, you have a 55-year-old musical based on a book that’s over 175 years old. What do you do to make it appeal to today’s audiences? Director Dan Pessano and set designer David Pierce found an answer—immerse the audience in the look of the period with modern technology. Scenes are introduced with projected images of 19th-century illustrations of the settings and action glowing on the scrim curtain before it fades into the actual scene, and related pictures appear on a screen behind the actors. The lines between woodcuts, the printed page, and living actors are blurred, putting the audience into a 3-D vintage volume out of a Dickens library.
Marty Margolin is Oliver, the orphan who dares to ask for more, setting him spinning on a course that leads him into London’s underworld. Margolin is a sturdy young fellow, precise and clear. His counterpart, the Artful Dodger, is played by Colton Allen, who has grown as a performer over his years with the Junior Company. He comes across less like former Dodgers Jack Wild and Davy Jones than as an earnest and jovial Peter Biliingsley’s Ralphie in A Christmas Story.
Daniel Sutherland as Mr. Bumble, the self-righteous and slimy beadle who sells Oliver into an apprenticeship, has marvelous muttonchop sideburns and a suitably unpleasant satisfaction in oppressing the orphans in his charge (who still manage to transform their diet of gruel into a joyful chorus of “Food Glorious Food”). He also is happily lecherous as he pursues and woos Widow Corney (Sharayah Veith), who giggles and coos in larcenous consort with Sutherland.
Tim Smith and Bryn Riley are all angular smugness as Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry, making use of Oliver in their funeral business. They are tall, thin, and mercenary, and their movement adds to the bizarreness of the scene.
Abigail Nolte Jurcak exudes a tragic strength as Nancy, the woman who loves a bad man. She makes you laugh, cry, and shrink in fear, but always love her. Larry Mattox and Becky Mattox lend major support to the show; Larry physically lifts Oliver in several numbers, and Becky musically supports it as she beautifully sells flowers, and her turn as a dying workhouse woman with a guilty conscience is a delicately-carved cameo.
Juan Danner and his impossibly-large eyes appear haunted as Fagin, leader of a gang of juvenile pickpockets. His red coat appears to have been stolen from Cardinal Richelieu, and his pointy beard could be used to saw off pieces of the scenery that he chews.
Greg Ruud is usually a jovial silver fox onstage, but her he is a black hearted wolf as Bill Sykes. He seems to have grown half a foot taller, and his malevolent physicality is a frightening display. However he does it, he does it well.
It’s a bright show in dark surroundings, tuneful and fun, filled with the Spirit of Dickens Past.
[To go along with Oliver! the Junior Company salutes British music, with nods to the Beatles, Elton John, Tom Jones, Adele, Vera Lynn, and others.]
Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater is at 1226 N. Wishon Avenue at Olive Avenue, across from the Tower Theatre. Contact the box office at 559-266-9494 or the website.
Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.