Trinity Rep's musical event of the year is "Oliver". The show is a British musical with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart and is based upon the novel "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens. It takes place in Victorian England and was the first musical adaptation of a famous Dickens work to become a stage hit. "Oliver" premiered in the West End of London on June 30, 1960 and ran for 2,,618 performances and opened on Broadway on January 6, 1963 and ran for 774 performances. The film version opened in 1968 and won six Academy Awards. The darkness of the Dickens novel is brightened by the beautiful music and is the well known story of orphan, Oliver Twist who asks for seconds of the gruel served at the workhouse. The repercussions of this act find him being sold to a funeral parlor for three pounds and then ends up learning how to pick pockets with Fagin and his gang of thieves. This is where he meets the lovely barmaid, Nancy who is torn between her love for the dastardly, criminal Bill Sykes and her desire to do the right thing. Former artistic director Richard Jenkins and his lovely wife Sharon co-direct "Oliver". He was a company member for fourteen years from 1970 to 1994 and for the last of those four years was the artistic director who rescued Trinity Rep after a tumultuous interim year under Anne Bogart after original artistic director Adrian Hall left. Richard infuses his performers with his knowledge of these Dickens characters and elicits superb performances from them while Michael Rice and his five piece orchestra supply a sumptuous sound to the singing voices of the cast. Sharon's marvelous dance numbers stop the show with their brilliant execution. Their combined efforts create the must see show of this winter season.
Richard blocks his performers splendidly, utilizing the whole playing area of the theatre. His knowledge of Dickens true picture of life in those stark and bleak times comes through and is softened by the music and comic elements he incorporates. Michael not only taught the performers their individual parts but create a terrific harmonic blend of voices especially in the intricate harmony of the quartet in "Who Will Buy". The children shine in their numbers including "Food Glorious Food" and Sharon's clever dances add to the power of it. The hornpipe section in "It's a Fine Life" and the minuet section in "I'd Do Anything" are examples of her expertise. The incredible set is by Award winning set designer Eugene Lee who recently designed the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon's new set in New York City. 10 year old Phineas Peters captures the hearts of the audience as Oliver. He is terrific as he captures the essence of this fragile boy. Phineas is not only a marvelous actor but a talented dancer and vocalist, too. He leads the children's chorus in "Food Glorious Food" and sings a verse of "Who Will Buy". Phineas stops the show with his rendition of "Where is Love" which leaves the audience in tears, capturing the vulnerability of this child yet he gives him strength in the confrontation with Sykes. Oliver stands up to him when he tells the villain that the books and money belong to Mr. Brownlow. Phineas does an outstanding job in this huge role. Kudos to the children's chorus who sing and dance up a storm in this show.
The heart and soul of this show is the character of Nancy. Rachael Warren returns in triumph to do a fantastic job as Nancy.Her warmth and affection for the children especially Oliver is displayed in "It's a Fine Life" and in her quartet "I'd Do Anything" with Dodger, Oliver and Bet. Her comic side is shown as Rachael opens the second act with a rousing number called "Oom Pah Pah" drinking shots of whiskey during it. One of the best dramatic moments occurs when Bill punches Nancy to the ground and then Rachael expertly sings the poignant love song "As Long As He Needs Me" which brings down the house with its pathos. Her confrontations with Bill and her death scene are excellent, too. Welcome back to Trinity Rep, Rachael. Brava.
Two of the comical evil characters are Stephen Berenson as Fagin and Noah Parets as the Artful Dodger. They both steal many scenes with their topnotch acting abilities and strong voices. Stephen excels as this smarmy crook who teaches the children to pick pockets in "Pick a Pocket" which turns into a dance number. Fagin loves his money and treasures but realizes he has to keep himself from being hung in "Reviewing the Situation". Both of his numbers are show stoppers. Noah gives a winning portrayal as Dodger who convinces Oliver to join the pickpocket gang. Only 14 years old, he has a bright future in show business. His duets are marvelous to behold including "Consider Yourself" with Oliver, "I'd Do Anything" with Nancy and "Be Back Soon" with Fagin. All three numbers turn into dancing extravaganzas with Noah leading the chorus in dancing up a storm in them. His dancing is phenomenal. The despicable and diabolical villain, Bill Sykes is well played by Timothy John Smith. You can hear a pin drop during his entrance number "My Name". The physical abuse he heaps on Nancy is frightening to behold. Timothy also sings "It's a Fine Life" reprise with Nancy, Fagin and Dodger.
Other evil characters include Tom Gleadow as Bumble who sings "Boy for Sale" and "Oliver" with his topnotch voice and Anne Scurria as Widow Corney that Bumble marries. She mounts Bumble when she says I Shall Scream which is hilarious and she also sings "Oliver" with Bumble. They make quite the comic duo in the show. Erick Pennick plays the dour Mr. Sowerberry who buys Oliver from Bumble while Lauren Gemelli as his shrewish wife, Whitney White as their daughter, Charlotte and William John Austin as Noah, the snarling bully who fights with Oliver. Erick and Lauren do an hilarious song and dance to "It's Your Funeral" over and around a coffin with a dead body and Oliver sitting on top of it while they neck with other. Their bawdy behavior stops the show with its hilarity. The good characters include Stephen Thorne as Mr. Brownlow, Oliver's long lost grandfather and Anne Scurria as his sympathetic maid, Mrs. Bedwin and Lauren Gemelli as Bet. She displays her beautiful singing voice and dancing prowess as Nancy's sister and gets a chance to sing the reprise of "Where Is Love" to Oliver as his mother in the portrait and sings his "Where is Love" closing in the first act. So for a magnificent rendition of this classic tale, be sure to catch "Oliver" at Trinity Rep. Run do not walk to the box office before this stunning show is completely sold out. I had a great time back in 1990 when I played Dr. Grimwig for The Players