BWW Review: Penobscot Theatre Greets Holiday Season with OLIVER!

Bangor's Penobscot Theatre Company is devoting the month of December to a jaunty, spirited production of the Lionel Bart musical, Oliver!. Directed/choreographed by Allison Bibicoff, production is clearly a labor of love, employing (for this theatre) a moderately large cast and the best of the company's current resources. The result is energetic and entertaining with moments of engaging drama.

Bibicoff's staging is appropriately fast paced and keeps the story arc through-propelled, though she occasionally resorts to some touches that are more distraction than dramatic, such as Bill Sykes' absolutely adorable bull dog mascot, who did a fair amount of scene stealing at inopportune moments. Her choreography, especially in the sequences for Fagin's band of pickpocket boys, sometimes seemed counter-intuitive to the music. The five-person orchestra under the musical direction of Phil Burns played the score with feeling.

Tricia Hobbs' unit set with props by Ben Wetzel, makes effective use of the entire stage and its underpinnings (the brick back wall of the theatre adds nicely to the gritty London scene), and Scott Hough's lighting design, for the most part, captures the chiaroscuro of the Dickensian theme, though there were significant issues with spotlight follow at the performance I attended. Kevin Koski's costumes round out the visual ambiance nicely.

In the trio of leads, Zachary Spreng was a mournful Oliver, Brianne Beck a tough, strong-voiced Nancy, and Dominick Varney an ingratiating, wily Fagin. As Mr. Bumble, Ben Layman displayed a fine voice and understood the comic dimensions of the character perfectly, while Elena Di Siervo was his ideal partner as the Widow Corney. Annie Leonardi-Merchant contrasted her dual roles of the strident Mrs. Sowerberry and kindly Mrs. Bedwin, as did Alekzander Sayers as Sowerberry and then Dr.Grimwig. Neil E. Graham conveyed Bill Sykes' brutality, if not his latent psychopathic nature.

In the youthful ensemble which used both boys and girls as the orphans and pickpockets (Emma Campbell, Molly Hagerty, Noam Osher, Zivi Osher), AnDrew Barrett made a cheeky Artful Dodger; Anna Kemble was an empathetic Bet. Rounding out the cast, Kate Adam as Charlotte and Aidan Babbitt as Noah Claypole conveyed the quirkiness of their characters; Frank Booker made a gentle MR. Brownlow, and from the ensemble, (Molly Hagerty, Grace Livingston-Kramer, Anna Kemble, and Rebeckah Kay Perry) came some fine vocal contributions.

The Penobscot Theatre is to be congratulated for making an original choice for the holiday season. Not only is it a pleasure to see a revival of Oliver!, but it was clear from the public's response that the musical was resonating with a broad-based audience that included large numbers of young people. Clearly, Dickens and Lionel Bart's show are alive and well!

Photos courtesy of Penobscot Theatre

Oliver! runs from December 1-24, 2016 at Bangor Opera House, 131 Main St., Bangor, ME www.penobscottheatre.org (207) 942-3333

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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-S├╝llwold

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