Theater Review by Howard Steven Frydman
Production: Lionel Bart’s OLIVER!
Theater: The Goodspeed
Book, Music & Lyrics: Lionel Bart
Director: Rob Ruggiero
The Goodspeed Opera House and Director Rob Ruggiero – a true winning combination of a theater experience – in fact put them both together and collectively it equals “the mark of excellence”!
For the past month or so, I have been reviewing several regional summer productions, some good, some middle of the road – but when you see greatness- you know it. Case in point the current musical production of “Oliver!”, playing at The Goodspeed and directed by “the” legendary Rob Ruggiero – folks let me tell you from the get go – I came down with a case of the Kvells!!! Rob’s masterful golden directorial hands abound throughout. I rightly state “This indeed IS the GOLD STANDARD of Musicals” – providing audience goers the 3p’s – “production, production and production” and such memorable tunes including; “Food, Glorious Food”, “Consider Yourself”, “As Long as He Needs Me”, “Oliver!”, “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two”, and “Where is Love?” For a perfectly perfect golden summer outing of theater I more than strongly suggest a visit to Goodspeed to see the musical “Oliver!”.
“Oliver”- yes I know “more please” and you surely receive that and more from this joyous configuration of youthful teen actors and their more mature masterful counterparts. Please note these three initial particular details as you take your seat as I did- I do not want you to take them for granted as they add so much to your enjoyment, – the scenic/set design by Michael Schweikardt, lighting by John Lasiter and Victorian era costumes by Alejo Vietti – as in an excellent meal to come they are your opening appetizers. Your main course – the superb acting especially that of the Kid’s Company – by the way, less you think anything takes place by accident- kudos also to dialect coach, amazing actor and Professor at The Hartt School- Mr. Robert H. Davis.
“Oliver” – the musical – based upon the 1837 novel “Oliver Twist” by author Charles Dickens, had its initial West End Premiere in 1960 and brought to the Broadway stage in 1963 where it premiered at the Imperial theater. The musical received ten Tony nominations including Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Actress in a Musical and won awards for Scenic Design, Original Score and Music Direction.
And so “I am born” (sorry that’s David Copperfield) however as with the unfortunate David C. – the musical opens on the unfortunate Oliver T. – where his mother dies giving him birth, her only belongings, a locket, stolen by Old Sally (Shannon Lee Jones) and Oliver’s possible birthright gone forever.
“And so my life as a pauper begins” – yet fear not for this pauper is destined to be a prince in due time. A transition now brings us to the next chapter- The Orphanage/workhouse where we meet Mr. Bumble (Richard R. Henry), “the Beadle” in charge of duties of charity, Widow Comey (Joy Hermalyn) greedy dictatorial caretaker of the Orphanage and recipient of Bumble’s amorous advances and its legion of starving gruel-fed orphan boys- (think Annie – It’s A Hard Knock Life- here it’s the infamous – “More Scene” and the tuneful “Food, Glorious Food”). Additional misadventures find Oliver sold to Undertaker Sowerberry (Jamie LaVerdiere) and then escaping to London and his eventual befriending by the the youthful Artful Dodger (Gavin Swartz), the master pickpocket-teer Fagin (Donald Corren) and his gang of pre-pickpocket-teens in training.
Nothing beats a glorious Dicken’s tale, add in the music by Lionel Bart and Direction by Rob Ruggiero and its a truly grand slam of musical greatness. Speaking of Dickens, one finds delight in pronunciation of those imaginative character names, Bumble, Twist, Sowerberry, and the memorable ARTFUL DODGER- roles an actor can really sink their teeth into – we’re hungry- no gruel please! Speaking of actors- I must give kudos to our two youthful stalwart leads- Elijah Rayman, who portrays “Oliver”- more like “Peck’s Bad Boy”- as a mischievous prankster, than the usual noble and oh-so- humble characterization, Gavin Swartz is a “WOW” – a true scene- stealer in both “Consider Yourself” and “You’ve Got to pick a Picket or Two” – a minor thought- would have liked to have seen his portrayal just a bit more “tuffer” – maybe adding an affectation such as an unlit pipe, or an “always in hand” pocket watch. In fact, kudos to our entire Kids Company and Ensemble. Lastly, the coveted “Howard Noticed You Award” goes to Mr. Richard R. Henry for your boisterous, bigger than life portrayal of Mr. Bumble- a memorable performance indeed.
If I had to sum up this production in one word it’s “Fun”- the cast is having fun on stage and it translates to a very appreciative audience. The musical numbers emerge from the story with a grace that is both noticeable and appreciated. My friends, I give you my gold seal guarantee- if you make one journey this summer, take the family to see Oliver! This family friendly production is not to be missed. Enjoy!
Lionel Bart’s OLIVER! will run June 29th through September 13th, 2018. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.).
Tickets are available through the Goodspeed Box Office (860-873-8668), open seven days a week, or on-line at goodspeed.org.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howards2424@gmail.com.