Monday, June 25, 2007


When ‘OLIVER’ hits its stride it should be a crowd-pleaser at Cain Park

Fred Sternfeld, the director of ‘OLIVER’ which is now appearing at Cain Park’s Evans Theatre, is noted for his ability to take large casts and make them into cohesive units (think ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” at Beck Center and ‘RAGTIME’ at Jewish Community Center). He pulls it off again with ‘OLIVER,’ though there were some rag tag moments on opening night, some questionable casting, and a languid pace.

I was fortunate enough to have seen the second night performance of the London production of ‘OLIVER.’ I clapped my hands sore during the numerous curtain calls. The show has continued to be one of my very favorites.

The script, with music, book and lyrics by Lionel Bart, is loosely based on Charles Dickens' ‘OLIVER TWIST.’ It is noted as being the first musical adaptation of a Dickens novel to become a successful stage hit. The New York version opened in 1963 with Ron Moody (Fagin) and Georgia Brown (Nancy) of the original London cast.

The story centers on Oliver, an orphan who runs away from the funeral parlor to which he has been sold for misbehaving at an orphanage. He hooks up with a group of boys trained to be pickpockets by the devious but good hearted Fagin. On his first outing, Oliver is wrongly accused of a theft. Through a serious of twists and turns, and some glorious songs, Oliver’s life takes a drastic turn and it appears that he winds up living happily ever after.

Cain Park’s production is blessed with George Roth portraying Fagin. He has a delightful singing voice and gives the role the right tone. His “ Reviewing the Situation” was wonderful, as was “Pick A Pocket or Two.” He walks the line between bad guy and curmudgeon with finesse.

Lincoln Sandham (Oliver), though a little too old to be playing the role, has the requisite blonde hair and innocent wide-eyed look. He has a nice pure singing voice. His “Where is Love” was right in tonality and meaning.

One of my favorite musical theatre songs is, “As Long as He Needs Me.” Each time I see the production I sit in fear that the song will be ruined. No fear in this production. Patty Lohr sings beautifully, stressing meaning over mere words, and she also acts the role with assurance.

As has come to be expected, Martin Cespedes’ choreography is creative. He has honed the youngsters in the cast into a cohesive unit that is delightful in “Food, Glorious Food.” His staging of “I’d Do Anything” is a show stopper.

Musical Director Jodie Ricci, Scenic Designer Jeff Hermann, and Costumer Aimee Kluiber all should be proud of their contributions.

On the other hand, Kris Hebble fails to develop any meaningful character as Mr. Bumble. Surprisingly Juliette Regnier is emotionally flat as Widow Corney and Bob Adelman speaks lines without much meaning as Mr. Sowerberry. Because of this, the second and fourth scenes in the first act drag. Even “I Shall Scream” lacks the humor inherent in the song. Chris McCarrell lacks the enthusiasm and a twinkle-in-the-eye playfulness needed for portraying the Artful Dodger. Bob Russell could be more consistently verbally and physically menacing as Bill Sykes. His "My Name" lacked the necessary shudder-factor.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “OLIVER,’ with its wonderful score and slight but engaging story line is one of musical theatre’s better scripts. The Cain Park production has the potential to be very good, thanks to some strong performances and wonderful choreography. It can only be hoped that as the production runs the weaker cast members will truly develop their characters and the pace of the show will pick up.