Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On Goodspeed's OLIVER!

Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On Goodspeed's OLIVER!

Charles Dickens' beloved orphan makes his Goodspeed debut in the hope-filled musical set in the dark shadows of Victorian London. Bounced from workhouse to forced labor, Oliver Twist escapes to the streets where he meets Fagin, the Artful Dodger and a band of child pickpockets. Will he find love, home and happiness before it's too late? Consider yourself part of the family with the colorful international smash that gave the world "Where Is Love?," "Food! Glorious Food!" and "As Long As He Needs Me." Oliver! is made possible in part by Liberty Bank, the Lucille Lortel Foundation, Masonicare at Chester Village and The Shops at Mohegan Sun.

Oliver!, featuring book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, is directed by Rob Ruggiero and choreographed by James Gray.

Oliver Twist is by Elijah Rayman. Elijah has been in productions since he was five years old, most recently in the role of Mamillius in The Winter's Tale at New York's Theatre for a New Audience. The role of Fagin is played by Donald Corren who returns to Goodspeed having previously appeared in the musical Nöel. His Broadway credits include Souvenir, and Torch Song Trilogy. Off-Broadway Donald has performed in The Fantastics (Jerry Orbach Theatre), Old Jews Telling Jokes (Westside Theatre) and The Soap Myth (Roundabout Black Box). Regionally Corren has performed in numerous productions including The Fabulous Lipitones (George Street Playhouse), My Fair Lady (The Guthrie Theatre) as well as productions at Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Arena Stage, Old Globe and many more.

Bill Sikes plays Brandon Andrus who previously performed in the Goodspeed productions of Annie Get Your Gun and Camelot. Mr. Andrus was in the 2014 Broadway revival of Side Show and the National Tours of Jersey Boys and Oklahoma!. Brandon's Off-Broadway and regional credits includeLiberty: A Monumental Musical (42West NYC), Carmen: An Afro-Cuban Jazz Musical (Olney Theatre), Spamalot (Geva Theatre), Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, A Musical (La Mirada), For Goodness Sake (Musicals Tonight) and many more. Actress EJ Zimmerman will play Nancy. Ms. Zimmerman's musical theatre credits include Broadway's Les Misérables, the First National Tour of Avenue Q, Off-Broadway's Disenchanted! and Miss Saigon at Riverside Theatre, Arvada Center and Actors' Playhouse. The Artful Dodger will be played by Gavin Swartz. In addition to playing Nigel in Broadway's Matilda the Musical he has performed regionally in Les Misérables and in A Christmas Story The Musical.

Oliver! is directed Rob Ruggiero who has directed numerous Goodspeed productions including Rags, Carousel, Camelot, Show Boat, 1776 and Fiddler on the Roof. He has received numerous awards and nominations for his regional work including multiple Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. Mr. Ruggiero conceived and directed the original musical revue Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn which garnered him nominations for both Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. Mr. Ruggiero currently serves as the Producing Artistic Director at TheaterWorks in Hartford, where he conceived and directed the highly successful Ella, a production that received Kevin Kline and Joseph Jefferson Awards and has since been produced at major regional theaters around the country.

Oliver! runs through September 8, 2018.

Tickets are available through the Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or online at goodspeed.org. For show highlights, exclusive photos, special events and more, visit at goodspeed.org.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant: As Goodspeed shows go, this one is mid-level splashy, mid-high bouncy. It's creepily beautiful rather than pretty. The band is steady without being peppy. The stage is not darkly lit, but the sets are gray. With one of the largest casts in the theater's history, that multi-level fence- and gate-studded stage can get crowded. The big "Consider Yourself" number pushes Oliver (angelic Elijah Rayman) and his new pal the Artful Dodger (an endearing if rather uptight Gavin Swartz) right out into the auditorium where they gleefully shake hands with members of the audience. The vendors of "Who Will Buy?" call out from the balcony. The sinister Bill Sikes (Brandon Andrus) lurks down the aisles.

Nancy Sasso Janis, Patch: The wonderful cast is led by Elijah Rayman in the title role; the young actor has been treading the boards since the age of five. Richard R. Henry (1776 at CT Rep at UConn) stepped out of the ensemble to play the Beadle of the workhouse Mr. Bumble with a wonderful booming singing voice and big stage presence. Joy Hermalyn (Sound of Music Live! NBC) was a delightful Widow Corney, the mistress of the workhouse. Jamie LaVerdiere was great as the soused undertaker Mr. Sowerberry as well as Dr. Grimwig in his Goodspeed debut.

J. Peter Bergman, Berkshire Edge: It is certainly the actress playing Nancy who holds the success of the show in her hands. EJ Zimmerman plays Nancy, who claims to have "A Fine Life" "As Long As He Needs Me." She has a strong, lush voice; moves like a well-trained dancer; and dances with the best on this stage. She also plays her scenes with heart and warmth and charm when she needs to. She comes the closest to Dickens in this show of anyone in any role. Her ballad, mentioned above, was moving and her second-act opener, "Oom Pah Pah," had all the glory of the improvised pub songs one can still occasionally hear in London if one is lucky. This actress is a find and I hope Goodspeed keeps her around for other shows in the coming seasons.

Joseph Harrison, BroadwayWorld: In the title role of Oliver, Elijah Rayman is very good. His Oliver is resigned to his life, but never loses his boyish glow or his optimistic outlook on life. It is hard not to smile watching him deliver classic songs like "Where is Love" and "Who Will Buy?". The other standout youth performance worth noting is that of Gavin Swartz as the Artful Dodger. As the dynamic and energetic leader of Fagin's youth, Swartz gives a strong performance all around, including some impressive dancing and a solid English accent. Donald Corren's Fagin is slimy and scheming, but with a glint of possibility in his eyes. All of his songs are great, but especially in "Reviewing the Situation" where he duets with the violin (magnificently played by Andrew Mayer). Rounding out the principal performances, Brandon Andrus' Bill Sikes is believably heartless and with his booming bass voice and gruff demeanor, he's the kind of guy you don't want to run into in a dark alley. Finally, EJ Zimmerman's Nancy is conflicted in her love of Bill, yet moved by her attachment to young Oliver. A highlight of any production of OLIVER!, Nancy's ballad "As Long As He Needs Me" soars and doesn't disappoint.

Patrick Berry, Westfield News: With a large cast of kids onstage, it would have been easy for Ruggiero to go for the cuteness quotient, but his staging is so balanced, and he's able to blend the enthusiasm of some of the young performers-an excellent Elijah Rayman a Oliver and a terrific Gavin Swartz as the Dodger, with the darker characters, from the manipulative Fagin, well played by Donald Corren to the villanus Bill Sykes, played by Brandon Andrus. Michael O'Flaherty's musical direction is superb, and James Gray's choreography is spirited.

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