at Richter’s ‘Oliver!’ is cheery tale — and audible“Oliver!”,
the final summer offering of Danbury’s Musicals at Richter, is so jolly it’s hard
to believe it’s based on Charles Dickens’ gloomy novel “Oliver Twist.”
By Chesley Plemmons
NEWS-TIMES THEATER CRITIC
it a Dickens-flavored entertainment instead, for Lionel Bart’s music and lyrics
are so thoroughly upbeat you might suspect Oliver is related to Mary Poppins.
a criticism than an observation that this family-oriented musical takes some somber
deeds and turns them into spirited outbursts of optimism.
does, nevertheless, make an excellent introduction to the theater for young audiences
and might even pique their interest in the original, deeper and more complex story.
production is first-rate and crowded with performers of talent. And, mercifully,
the outdoor theater’s acoustics have been tended to — you can hear the voices
loud and clear and even identify who’s singing!
cast of more than 50, mostly on the young side, cavorts merrily on the season’s
unit set by Andrew Knapp, which in this outing makes its richest impression as
various locales in London Town.
Post assumed the triple role of director, choreographer and musical director,
and as usual, such an overload of responsibility leads to occasional oversight.
On the whole,
however, her work is lively, focused and well-rehearsed. The four-piece orchestra
under her baton turned out music that was admirably always in tune and tempo-right.
is the poignant tale of an orphan boy in London in the early 1800s who is sold
into servitude to an undertaker, escapes, and joins a group of young pickpockets.
are manipulated by master thief Fagin, one of literature’s most controversial
Shylock in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” he is Jewish and can be interpreted
as a true villain or simply a man who’s survived adversity. In Richter’s “Oliver!
he’s like a flamboyant Scout Master, eager to teach his boys how to earn merit
badges in thievery.
Koslowski provided the colorful costumes, which follow the lead of the music and
look more wholesome than threadbare. The orphans could be angels in a Christmas
pageant; the should-be-scruffy pickpockets seem dressed for a Soho sock dance.
skims along on the top of Dickens’ masterpiece, touching on high and low moments
in Oliver’s search for happiness. But we never once fear for the lad and, in true
Dickens’ style, he is reunited with his real family in the end.
a black subplot that involves cold-blooded criminal Bill Sykes and his sometimes
girlfriend Nancy, a friend of Fagin and his boys. Their relationship and its tragic
end are the only really depressing moments in the show.
was only 25 when he began writing “Oliver Twist,” and perhaps this darkly romantic
part of the story reflected his own youthful passions.
Post has wisely cast strong singer-actors in the pivotal roles. David Roth’s Fagin
is a clever blend of the droll and the devilish. When his days as a criminal seem
numbered, he considers his options in “Reviewing the Situation,” one of the show’s
highpoints and a moment of stage perfection.
also anchors the boisterous numbers he shares with his terrible tykes, “Pick A
Pocket,” “It’s A Fine Life” and “Be Back Soon.”
Ferzola plays the Artful Dodger, who recruits Oliver into Fagin’s gang, with an
energy that suggests a young Mickey Rooney and the dancing feet of Donald O’Connor.
appealing imp and a good partner to the talented 10-year-old Tabor Onthank, who
plays Oliver. Onthank has a sweet and secure voice that rings true in the show’s
most sentimental songs, “Where is Love” and “Who Will Buy.”
show doles out its big numbers to a variety of characters, including Chris Lieby
as Mr. Bumble, who puts the right wail onto “Boy for Sale,” and to Jon Burch and
Anne Giroux as Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry, the undertakers who quickly size up Oliver
up as a perfect coffin follower.
Sowerberrys join Lieby in “That’s Your Funeral,” a good example of black thoughts
clothed in bright lyrics.
Poulter is Bill Sykes and he’s evil personified. He uses his powerful voice to
put a chilling edge on “My Name,” meant to warn the unsuspecting to stay clear.
is a song in the show that can stand belting, it’s Nancy’s “As Long as He Needs
Me.” Juliette Garrison interprets it with both romanticism and fatalism, though
I could have done without so much blast on the final reprise.
music is dominant over the “Oliver” story, director Post seems to have adopted
an attitude of let’s get though the songless scenes quickly. The result is a declining
sense of tension as the play nears its end instead of a dramatic and tingling
finale with Sykes and Oliver fleeing over the tops of buildings.
the lack of truly involving drama, this is a tuneful show that scores points with
music and vivid panoply.
need not fear bringing the little ones — they’ll never suspect for a moment that
being an orphan is anything less than a lark.
plays Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:30 p.m. through Aug. 11 at Musicals
at Richter, Richter Arts Center, 100 Aunt Hack Road, off Mill Plain Road, Danbury.
Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors, $10 for students and children; call (203) 748-6873.
open at 7:15 for picnicking. Chairs may be rented by advance reservation.
© 2001 by The