Oliver! at Goodspeed

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

I admit I hadn’t seen ‘Oliver!’ since I was a kid- and I can’t recall if I had ever seen it on stage. So Goodspeed Opera House’s current revival of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver!’ was a great chance for me to catch it for the first time in a long time.

Directed by Rob Ruggiero, who did a wonderful job with Goodspeed’s ‘Rags’ last season, this is a revival of the classic Charles Dickens 1800’s ‘Oliver Twist’ tale of a poor orphan boy’s adventures in- and under- the city of London. Young Oliver, homeless and out on the streets, meets the Artful Dodger, played by Gavin Swartz, who takes him under his wing and teaches him how to be a pick pocket.

Brandon Andrus as Bill Sikes, choking Alex Stewart

However,  Oliver quickly proves he isn’t as adept at it as “the dodger”… which leads to several plot twists when Oliver gets caught and Fagin- the leader of the gang of orphan thieves- is worried Oliver might spill the beans and lead the police to his hideout. This gets complicated further by the character of the evil Bill Sikes (wonderfully played by a swaggering Brandon Andrus), who has no problem killing anyone he perceives as being a threat to him.

Ruggiero has acknowledged how the 1968 multiple Oscar-winning film by David Lean is “at the core” of Goodspeed’s production. And that’s a good thing as that film is widely hailed as one of the last great musical films.

Donald Corren as Fagin

And let’s not forget the music. Lionel Bart, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, created a handful of iconic, memorable songs that are here in this show: ‘Food, Glorious Food,’ ‘I’d Do Anything’ and ‘Consider Yourself’ are just three.

I’m happy to tell you the large cast here generally does a nice job bringing these old gems back to life. Michael O’Flaherty’s music direction is top shelf, as usual, and James Gray has choreographed several nice dance numbers into the show, too.

Elijah Rayman as Oliver

Elijah Rayman stars as the young Oliver and does a commendable job. He also has a lot of help, particularly from 3 terrific performers in featured roles: Donald Corren as Fagin, who does make the orphan kids steal for him but he also does care for-and about- all his kids; Brandon Andrus, truly marvelous as the malevolent Bill Sikes, and EJ Zimmerman as Nancy- an older orphan- brings the house down with her solo number, ‘As Long As He Needs Me.’

EJ Zimmeraman as Nancy

Though it is a dark journey we, as the audience, take with young Oliver, those three performances alone make this revival of ‘Oliver!’ worth the ride- both through Oliver’s up and down path-  and through the traffic down I-95 to get to the Goodspeed Opera House, which is in East Haddam on the Connecticut River.

Cast of ‘Oliver!’ at Goodspeed. All production photos by Diane Sobolewski.

The entire cast isn’t as consistent in some of the other roles but I wanted to mention Karen Murphy and Miranda Gelch, who shine in smaller parts. Costumes by Alejo Vietti and set design by Michael Schweikardt beautifully evoke the spirits of both Charles Dickens’ and David Lean’s visions of the story.

This revival would make both of them proud and I give Goodspeed’s ‘Oliver!’ 4 stars out of 5. It has been extended and runs through September 13th- and it’s worth the ride to East Haddam!

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”

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