OLIVER!Music, Lyrics and Book by Lionel Bart
Directed by David Overton
Music Director - Aimee Hurst Bozarth
Set Design - Bob Lavallee
Lighting Design - Samuel Rushen
Costume Design - Tammy Spencer
Stage Manager - Hans Meyer
Sound Design - Ryan Mansfield
Choreographer - Jeremy Dumont
Piano/Conductor - Aimee Hurst Bozarth
Keyboard - Elaine Davidson
Bass - Rez Bozarth
Percussion - Michael McNichola
Oliver - Logan Macaulay
Nancy - Jennifer Boswell
The Artful Dodger - J Mendl
Fagin - Doug Lopachin
Bill Sikes/Mr. Sowerberry/Knife Grinder - Christopher Deaton
Mrs. Swerberry/Milkmaid/Widow Corney - Debbie Brown
Mr. Brownlow - Alan Pollard
Bet / Charlotte Sowerberry / Rose Seller - Mary McElree
Mr. Bumble / Strawberry Seller - Paul Grant
Charley - Hayden Hart / Clay Slee
*Addie Presson played Bet/Rose Seller at the reviewed performance
Sunday Chorus - Westin Brown, Ellie Hertel, Rachel Marek, Caleb Midkiff, Erin
Patterson, Whitney Pavell, Grayson Pollard, Addie Presson, Avery Presson,
Brandon Shreve, Will Singleton, Clay Slee, Faith Stalzer, Felicia Stalzer,
Reviewed Performance: 10/16/2011
Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
It would seem that local theaters are trying to please families by accomplishing several things - inexpensive tickets, family friendly fare, shortened performances, lots of performance options, and short run times. For parents looking for fast and affordable entertainment to accommodate the busy schedules kids have with school and their own activities, this seems to be the best use of time and money.
The challenge is to keep the storytelling true to the original intentions and not have the cuts be too big at a cost to the continuity or said intentions.
Casa's Children's Theatre series provides a solid worth for the cost of the ticket. There is a live pit, and Equity performances, mixed with local children who have received professional training. These are all good things. Good theater is not inexpensive, and signs of stingy budgets are often obvious. As to Casa's Oliver, the show has been shortened to a one-act version that runs about an hour and ten minutes. Thirteen songs race by, and book scenes are reduced to a few lines to establish new places and faces, but not much else. Oliver is the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, the story of an orphan who, by falling in with the wrong crowd after being removed into an abusive apprenticeship, eventually is brought into proper English society where his true identity is discovered.
A commentary on many social issues of his time, the uncut musical has few touches beyond things that directly affect Oliver himself. Casa's cut, combined with David Overton's direction, has an uneven and surprising balance of what is sugar and what is dark.
Overton keeps things moving quickly, smartly too, so that those familiar with the movie/show do not have time to stop and ask where a certain event or line went. For those whose first experience is this Oliver, a quick explanation is sufficient to catch up a confused tot. The pace and performances easily keep the attention of the youngsters, with the usual fidgeting when the ballad is sat and sung. The tones of the show are mostly light and bright, with villains like the Sowerberry's having an ooky creepiness, and Fagin as more of a Hannigan-like loveable trickster.
With short book scenes, detailed characterizations are not possible, but strong and consistent choices have been made and work for the cuts. The darker elements skip over Nancy and Bill's abusive relationship as a whole but the lyrics to the songs remain the same. Still, as far as Bill's violence, he is most certainly a baddy and snaps Nancy's neck fully visible and out to the audience. His being shot is also equally visible. Kudos for the honesty of not overdoing nor shying away from the story; the parental audience present and comments afterward indicate approval over the tasteful handling of these elements in a production for kids.
Bob Lavallee's set is a multi-level venture with nooks holding the few and various benches, tables, and bits needed for the scenes. Transitions are neatly and quickly handled by the cast.
A silhouetted skyline and painted facades capture the mood and period appropriately. Signs come and go to identify new locations. Samuel Rushen's lights work well to create the mood, isolate areas, and work with the fog elements used in the production.
Tammy Spencer's costumes provide clearly varied looks for the ensemble that all play multiple roles. While not extremely detailed, they work well to establish status, authority, age, and period.
Music Director Aimee Hurst Bozarth has prepared a very capable ensemble. The choral sound is strong, and soloists shine. The accents are present and are neither overdone nor obnoxious in song (nor in speech).
Jeremy Dumont's choreography is well executed and suited to the skills of the young cast. Traditional elements are present, like the carriage ride, but some nice original pieces are specific to the Casa production as well.
The talented and versatile cast plays multiple roles and succeeds across the board in creating vivid, broad, and interesting characters. Everyone sings quite well and is fully engaged.
Christopher Deaton continues to be a Casa standout, continuing his trend from Hairspray of playing a wide range of quirky folks, completely different in speech pattern, temperament, and movement. Quite the character actor, Deaton's Mr. Sowerberry is delightfully creepy. At first the vocal aspect of Sikes seemed a bit overdone, but when Sikes' ire is up, there can be no doubt he is not a man to cross.
Debbie Brown is solid in her various characterizations as both the matron of the orphanage, Mrs. Sowerberry, and Rose Seller. She makes distinctions between her folks, and clearly enjoys the Sowerberry moments.
Paul Grant brings his bright voice to use in "Boy for Sale", and is appropriately slimey as Mr. Bumble. In various chorus scenes, he creates interesting personas and helps create moods.
Addie Presson, stepping in to play Bet and various other roles, gives the impression she's been playing them all along. She is a solid talent.
As Fagin, Doug Lopachin suffers from not having the scenes to help provide an arc for his character. Still, vocally Lopachin delivers an animated and entertaining performance with choices that work well for this reduced script.
He avoids Fagin clich?s and looks for moments to connect with the audience with sly winks and encouragement. He works well with the boys and it's a shame there's not more of these scenes in particular. Look fast for a cameo of the Broadway artwork on one of his exits.
Logan Macaulay has the look and voice to play Oliver. While not the most charismatic character on stage, he does garner the appropriate sympathy and easily executes what he's given to do.
As Nancy, Jennifer Boswell sings a lovely "As Long as He Needs Me", which may go over the heads of the twitchy boys, but was a treat in and of itself. She balances well the cuts in the book to hold together her storyline and character.
The character with the most surviving scenes is the Artful Dodger, delightfully delivered by J Mendl. The fleet of foot performer brings an energy, slyness, and polish to the role. Mendl coordinates lots of action on stage, both business and logistics, with an ease that makes everything look natural. He is vocally strong, keeping a consistent and easily understandable accent both in speech and song.
Casa's Oliver provides all the best bits of the show and will be appreciated by those who are familiar with the piece. The cast is quite capable of the task they are given to do with this production; it would be nice to see more, so to speak, of the full thing.
Casa MaNana's Children's Theatre at Casa MaNana Theatre
3101 West Lancaster Ave, Ft Worth, TX 76107.
Runs through October 30th, 2011
Friday Oct 21 at 7:00pm; Saturday Oct 22 at 1:00pm & 5:00pm
Sunday Oct 23 at 2:00pm; Friday Oct 28 at 7:00 pm;
Saturday Oct 29 at 1:00pm & 5:00pm
and Sunday, October 30 at 2:00pm
Ticket prices are $16 to $21 for adults & children
Tickets can be purchased by calling Casa MaNana Theatre's box office at 817-332-2272.