Steps Off Broadway's fifth summer show is "Oliver", the musical based on "Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens. It was the first musical adaptation of a Dickens novel to become a Broadway hit with the darkness of the novel lightened by the musical score. This show is set in Victorian England and is about a young orphan, Oliver Twist who asks for seconds of gruel at the workhouse. The repercussions from this act include finding himself sold into service at a funeral home parlor for five 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 Skyes and her desire to do the right thing. Broadway veteran Kristopher Kyer is the director of this musical and infuses his cast with his knowledge about these Dickens characters, elicits topnotch performances from them. Esther Zabinski is the vocal director while Keith Mottola creates the clever choreography. It earns his hard working cast a spontaneous standing ovation at curtain call.
Kristopher not only directs the show but also plays the role of Fagin where he steals many a scene as this comical crook. He excels as this crooked rogue teaches the children how to pick pockets in "Pick a Pocket" which turns into a big dance number and in "Reviewing the Situation" when he realizes even though he loves his money and treasures, it's better to escape while the going is good to keep himself from being hung. Leading this huge cast is 11 year old Aaron Harrahy who captures the hearts of the audience as Oliver. He is topnotch as he captures the essence of this fragile boy. Aaron leads the children in "Food Glorious Food", sings a verse of "Who Will Buy?" and stops the show with his emotion packed rendition of "Where Is Love?". It leaves the audience in tears as he captures the vulnerability of this child but later gives him the strength needed to stand up to Sykes when he tells him the books and money belong to Mr. Brownlow. Kudos to the whole children chorus for singing and dancing up a storm in this show. Aaron shares this role with Nicholas Levine.
The heart and soul of this show is the character of Nancy. Emma Krista does a fantastic job as Nancy. Her warmth and affection for the children especially Oliver can be seen in "It's A Fine Life" and in "I'd Do Anything" with Dodger, Oliver and Bet. Her comic side is shown in "Oom Pah Pah" which opens the second act. The best dramatic moment occurs when Bill backhands her and she falls to the floor and starts to sing the incredibly poignant "As Long as He Needs Me" which brings the house down with pathos. Her dramatic scenes and confrontations with Bill and her death scene are excellent, too. Braiden Strok is wonderful as Dodger. The duets "Consider Yourself" with Oliver, "I'd Do Anything" with Nancy and "Be Back Soon" with Fagin are topnotch numbers. Braiden leads the chorus in some of Keith's choreography in them. Gabby Millard plays Dodger at alternating performances.
The despicable villain Bill Sykes is well played by Michael Skrzek. The physical abuse he heaps on Nancy is terrifying to behold. Michael scares the crap out of the other characters and the audience on his first entrance during "My Name". He also sings "It's a Fine Life" with Nancy, Fagin and Dodger. Michael's tumble down the stairs after he is shot is fantastic. I last reviewed him as a superb dancer in "Annie Get Your Gun". This role is quite a change from a song and dance man. Other evil characters include Jim Kopycinski as Bumble who sings "Boy for Sale" and "Oliver" in his tenor voice and Kerri Cooper as the Widow Corney who Bumble marries, she sings "I'll Shall Scream" when she wants Bumble to seduce her and "Oliver" with him, too. They are quite the comic duo. Dave Ghioni as the dour Undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry who buys Oliver from Bumble, Heather Bodnar as his shrewish wife, Liz Jacques as their daughter and Troy Wheelet as the snarling bully, Noah who fights with Oliver. The two Sowerberry's sing "It's Your Funeral." The good characters are Ron Parello as Mr. Brownlow, Oliver's long lost grandfather, Robin Frank as his loyal maid, Mrs. Bedwin who sings "Where is Love" to Oliver, and the lovely strawberry blonde Kara DiPietro as Bet. She shares this role with Liz Jacques. The quartet in "Who Will Buy" is terrific and contains some of the best harmonies in the show. They are Liz Jacques, Gabby Millard, Heather Bodnar and Troy Wheeler. So for a wonderful rendition of this classic musical, be sure to catch "Oliver" at Steps Off Broadway before time runs out.