note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
Trinity Reps current production of “Oliver” is sheer delight, robust, sensitive, filled with strong singing and snappy dance numbers. is a British musical, with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. The musical is based upon the novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens.
It premièred in the West End in 1960, enjoying a long run, a successful Broadway production in 1963 and further tours and revivals. It was made into a musical film in 1968. Major London revivals played from 1977–80, 1994–98 and again from 2008–11. It was nominate for multiple Tony awards in both its original Broadway debut and with a revival in 1963 and again in 1984. It was also nominated for Olivier Awards in London in revivals in 1994 and 2008.
The production is sheer fun from beginning to end. It opens in the workhouse where the orphaned Oliver Twist lives since his dying mother left him there. At one point, Oliver musters the courage to ask for more food. The request son incenses Mr. Bumble who runs the workhouse that he decides to sell Oliver to an undertaker. When someone insults Oliver’s dead mother, he begins to pummel him. Mr. Bumble is sent for Oliver is forced to run away and ends up in London where he meets the Artful Dodger who introduces him to the clandestine clan of young criminals under the tutelage of Fagin. Oliver is completely unaware of any criminality, and believes that the boys make handkerchiefs rather than steal them.
The next day, Oliver meets Nancy, the girlfriend of the infamous Bill Sykes, a burglar who abuses her. When Oliver goes out with the Artful Dodger to pick pocket and unsuspecting wealthily man, Mr. Brownlow, Oliver is caught and blamed for picking the pocket. When it is straightened out Oliver ends up going home with Mr. Brownlow. Nancy and Bill bring him back to Fagin’s den. In remorse, Nancy visits Mr. Brownlow and vows to bring Oliver to him later. That is when all goes awry.
Phineas Peters, who’s played Tiny Tim a couple of times in recent years, is a plucky Oliver, the orphan boy who falls in with Fagin and the Artful Dodger. He has a winning stage presence and sings with confidence and dances with ease.
14-year-old Noah Parets was terrific as the Artful Dodger the young pickpocket. He sings with finesse and energy and dances with style and flair.
Rachael Warren, who plays Nancy, Bill Sykes’ long-suffering girlfriend, sings marvelously and with great feeling, particularly in the mournful “As Long As He Needs Me.” Or she sings with gusto and vigor in “Oom-Pah, Pah.”
Boston-area actor Timothy John Smith is the dark and dangerous Bill Sykes. He plays the role with a gritty nastiness that is ominous and chilling. He is brutal. When he sings “My Name” it is chilling and ominous. This is no man to be trifled with by anyone at any time.
Stephen Berenson, who is a masterful Fagin, the crafty crook who teaches boys the art of picking pockets. Berenson is treat as Fagin. He makes the character large and amusing throughout without fail. He sings skillfully. He is pure comic delight in singing “Reviewing the Situation.”
Tom Gleadow’s Mr. Bumble and Anne Scurria’s coy Mrs. Corney, are sheer delight. The couple run the workhouse where Oliver grew up. They have some very funny moments in the first act in a little dance of attraction between the two of them, back and forth until she ends up in his lap and they later end up married, very unhappily.
There are tons of talented kids in the show who sing and dance up a storm with energetic abandon and yet discipline. They shine particular in “Food Glorious Food” and “Consider Yourself.”
The return of husband and wife team Richard and Sharon Jenkins harkens back to the days of Adrian Hall. Richard Jenkins, the Oscar-nominated film actor, led Trinity in the early 1990s, which was the last time he directed a show. Her choreography is charming and entrancing, full of fun and packed with oomph.
Its gritty and grimy, the darker side of Dickens and London in the recycled Christmas Carol set. It is also very intimate. The singers and dancers here are top notch. It is full of rich theatrical moments and even though Jenkins has left behind for the most part stage work acing so much in film, he has not lost his touch in being able to deliver top notch stage direction as he does here.
They got a well deserved standing ovation at the end. You won’t want to miss it for a wonderful musical treat.
“Oliver!” runs through March 30 at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St., Providence. Tickets are $28-$72. Call (401) 351-4242, or visit trinityrep.com.