BWW Reviews: Kentwood Players Offer Excellent OLIVER!


book, music & lyrics by Lionel Bart
directed by Harold Dershimer
@ Kentwood Players
through April 21

The musical Oliver!, like Annie, presents challenges galore for a small theatre, first of all because of its very large cast, a good portion of whom are children. Unless they are top of the line performers who have had at least some experience singing and dancing, the show could scream dismal failure. Such, thank heavens, is hardly the case with the Kentwood Players' fine production whose cast are mostly top notch under the skilled guidance of director Harold Dershimer.

Oliver!'s heartwarming story of the quest for love and goodness comes to glorious life through the genius of Lionel Bart, who not only wrote the book but also the music and lyrics. It is rare when one person can forge a blockbuster single-handedly, but Bart, indeed did - and his music is so memorable. "Boy for Sale", "Where Is Love?", "Who Will Buy?" "As Long As He Needs Me" stand up to any of the greatest ballads ever written. And the quicker paced tunes are equally precious, like "Consider Yourself", "It's a Fine Life", "I'd Do Anything", or "Be Back Soon".

With a five-piece band visible on the upper level of the set, Kentwood Players do exceedingly well musically, as every actor present has the necessary musical chops. Special kudos goes to dandy actress/singer Elizabeth Bouton, who makes a dynamic and irresistible Nancy, Joseph Peter West, who is a real find as little Oliver - film producers, take note that this boy has star quality, Ben Lupejkis as Fagin, and Drew Fitzsimmons as Bill Sykes. Logan Gould has the cockiness of the Artful Dodger down pat, but needs to develop more style in his delivery, which will develop nicely in time as he gains more experience. Lupejkis is simply great with "Reviewing the Situation" but could be a bit more menacing overall. I found myself liking him almost too much, as Fagin should offer a love/hate attraction. The entire ensemble move well with Anna Rubin's zippy choreography and director Dershimer keeps a fine pace throughout, never letting the action slow down for a second. Patricia Butler is a delight as the Widow Corney, and proving that there is no such thing as a small part, Judy Rosenfeld essays a mean-spirited Mrs. Sowerberry as well as a few other standout minor characters.

Michael Allen's set is economically serviceable, and the cast work diligently and smoothly making changes in between scenes. With so many actors in  question, the stage never seems cramped, due to Dershimer's even distribution, and all the children work together harmoniously. Kathy Dershimer's costumes have the stamp of the period. And accents are uniformly good throughout the company.
Oliver! marks my second Kentwood production and I am overall very, very pleased with the truly professional work that the theatre turns out. Don't miss this excellent version of the Lionel Bart classic!

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