BWW Review: Arizona Broadway Theatre Presents OLIVER!
When a gaggle of 25 eminently talented youngsters snakes around the tables of a workhouse dining room to the tune of Food, Glorious Food, it is a sign of things to come in Andy Meyers's production of OLIVER! (on stage through May 21st at Arizona Broadway Theatre): exuberant choreography (Kurtis Overby) and a dynamic song-and-dance ensemble to match.
There is none of the darkness in OLIVER! of Charles Dickens's account of an orphan boy left to wander the streets of Victorian London, enmeshed in a ne'er-do-well's cult of thievery, and vulnerable to the neglect and disdain of high society. Nor does the musical evoke the pangs of conscience that might normally accompany the accounts of such tragic circumstances. Not that, in the right hands, it couldn't, but the norm is to lighten up the story and put a gloss on the underground characters of ill repute.
So, Oliver Twist (Tristan Klaphake, alternating with Corban Adams) in the musical is almost incidental, a gentle and unassuming presence, save for his signature song (Where Is Love?), a prop, as it were, around which the principals give voice to Lionel Bart's iconic songs.
Fagin (Edward Prostak) is less sinister than comical, a wily scoundrel and master pocket picker, who is far more endearing than any child exploiter should be. Prostak, however, is undeniably charming and alluring, with his serpentine pointer finger carving out his place on the stage and, at his endgame, wowing the audience with Reviewing the Situation.
When Cassandra Klaphake as Nancy belts out As Long As He Needs Me, it's like you've been transported to a concert hall and you forget that the song is a stand-by-your man apology for withstanding the abuse of her bully beau, Bill Sykes (Geoff Belliston). The story line takes a back seat to spotlighting a performer with an extraordinary voice.
Marvelous comical moments are provided along the line, compliments of the workhouse caretakers, Mr. Bumble (Director Meyers) and Widow Corney (Johanna Carlisle), and the Sowerberry undertakers (Jay Roberts, Renee Kathleen Kohler, Bradlee Laight, and Lauren Paley). Douglas Clarke's set, Lottie Dixon's costumes, and Paul Black's lighting enhance the Broadwayish luster of this production of OLIVER!
Poverty and hunger are nastier phenomena than this happy musical can reflect. Even though Oliver is finally rescued through a Dickensian twist of fate, one might feel compelled to find the source novel and read it as a conscience and consciousness booster.
(Just one final note that may be more inside-the-house than a review should allow. But, here I go: Advice: Forget the bulldog!)
Photo credit to Scott Samplin