Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Oliver (Playhouse Square Center)

‘OLIVER!’ is a major disappointment at The Palace

On my very first visit to London in 1960 I was told by the booker, from whom I ordered theatre tickets, that one of the shows I was supposed to see had been canceled. If it was all right, she stated, she could give me a free ticket to a musical based on a Charles Dicken’s novel that was opening that night.

Yes, I saw the world premiere of ‘OLIVER!,’ based on ‘OLIVER TWIST’ with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. The amazing cast included Ron Moody as Fagin and Georgia Brown as Nancy. Moody was a delightful rogue and Brown’s “As Long As He Needs Me” was the most emotionally engaging song I had ever heard. After 18 curtain calls I left the theatre entranced.

I went to New York to see the show again after it transferred across the Atlantic, this time to see Clive Revill infuse the show with his wonderful version of Faigan, Georgia Brown revive her role of Nancy, and Davie Jones, who gained notoriety as a member of The Monkees, delight as The Artful Dodger.

I was not alone in my love of the show. A review of the New York production stated, “Oliver! came singing, bouncing and bubbling its way into the Imperial theatre last night, and if ever there was a musical to please everybody, that is it. Overflowing with singable tunes and a solid singing cast, it is a good clean joy of a show.” Another reviewer called it, “One of the smasheroo hits of recent seasons.”

As good as the London, Broadway and many local productions of the show, including a wonderful staging by Elyria Summer Theatre some seasons back, is as bad as the present staging of ‘OLIVER!’ at the Palace Theatre. To make the matter all the worse, this show is part of the Broadway Series. Believe me, Broadway quality this isn’t!

The present production is miscast and misdirected. The choreography is static and stale. The show is paced too slowly. The music is tinny sounding due to the tiny size of the touring orchestra and the cadence of the music is way too slow. The sets don’t work well. It’s hard to find anything right about the show. To go on with details would be worthless.

Suffice to say my love affair with the show will live on in spite of the bad taste in my eyes and ears from this embarrassing production. I’ll just pretend that I never saw this production and, as I’m doing as I write this review, just listen to the original Broadway cast recording.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Playhouse Square Foundation should be ashamed of itself to be charging Broadway rates for this amateur, misconceived production of ‘OLIVER!’.