Lionel Bart’s classic musical Oliver started its life in London’s West End in 1960. In 1963 Broadway impresario David Merrick bought the show to the states where it became a megahit.
It is only natural that to end its 63rd season Adventure Theatre-MTC would be producing Oliver as its very first two act musical. I say natural because this show gives kids a huge chance to shine on stage in both lead and ensemble parts. The show even starts off with a huge number specifically featuring them. You probably know I am speaking of “Food Glorious Food.”
In fact, it is clear with Cabana’s outstanding performance as Oliver that a star is born.
Based on Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist the story revolves around Oliver (Franco Cabanas) who is in the care of Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney (Danny Pushkin and Melynda Burdette) after his mother passed away. After uttering “Please sir, I want some more” which is the number one phrase on the musical theatre hit parade, he is sold by Bumble to an undertaker named Mr. Sowerberry (Keith Richards) and his wife Mrs. Sowerberry (Marni Ratner Whelan.) After escaping from the funeral home, Oliver is taken under the wing of The Artful Dodger (Jake Foster) and is taken to the home of the king of the thieves Fagin (Rick Hammerly.) There he is taught how to become a pickpocket like the rest of Fagin’s gang. Nancy (Felicia Curry), the abused mistress of Bill Sykes (Greg Twomey ) started thieving for Fagin at a very young age. On Oliver’s first day as a thief, he gets caught by the police. When bystanders tell the judge what really happened, he is released into the custody of the well to do Mr. Brownlow (also played by Richards).
Making his professional debut, Franco Cabanas as Oliver hits all the high notes in his performance, including the ending of his poignant lament “Where is Love.” As a young actor, Cabanas holds the stage against his more seasoned counterparts. I can see Cabanas having a big career ahead of him. In fact, it is clear with Cabana’s outstanding performance as Oliver that a star is born.
There is something about a performer that can take an unlikeable character and make you care about the person’s plight. Rick Hammerly as Fagin brings a human side to the role. Fagin really isn’t a bad person, he just steals to survive. He actually has a big heart. Hammerly’s “Reviewing the Situation” further demonstrates this with his expert interpretation of that song.
What can I say about Felicia Curry that you probably don’t already know? Her Nancy in a word is perfection. When you hear her sing “As Long as He Needs Me” it’s as if you are the royal subjects listening to the queen. Not even an ill conceived set change that blocks Curry for a few seconds during the song can detract from her power or vocal artistry.
Other notable performances include the energetic Jake Foster as The Artful Dodger and Greg Twomey as the brooding Bill Sykes.
Musical director William Yanesh does wonders with only four musicians as Bart’s score leaps off the page and comes to life.
Under Yanesh’s musical direction, the bright-eyed young members of the ensemble sound fantastic. Big numbers, such as “Oom-Pah-Pah” and “Consider Yourself” are performed with plenty of energy and power.
We must remember that Oliver is a dark story so to make the show a little more palpable for the younger set a few things have been lightened up by director Joseph Ritsch. The one thing that didn’t do it for me, however, was the interpretation of the Sowerberrys. For two undertakers they are quite animated. Their song called “That’s Your Funeral” was over staged which in my opinion detracted from the song itself. I also have to say that the more dramatic sections felt a little bit rushed. I assume this was a choice to keep the youngest audience members engaged throughout.
Rachel Leigh Dolan’s choreography is at its best with the musical number “I’d Do Anything.” It is charming, subtle, and let’s the song speak for itself.
Douglas Clarke’s unit set depicts Victorian London, complete with street and bridge. Martha Mountain’s lighting gives us the cold feeling that comes from Dickens’s world.
Overall, it might not be as dark as I would like but Adventure Theatre-MTC’s production of Oliver does fulfill its mission of entertaining young families and does so this time with a big Broadway musical. It also pairs some up and coming talent with two high powered DC area performers and a professional design team. Bring your family and after “Reviewing the Situation” you’ll “Consider Yourself” fortunate.
Running Time: Two hours and five minutes with one intermission.
Oliver runs through August 16th 2015 at Round House Theatre which is located at 4545 East-West Hwy Bethesda, MD. For tickets, click here.