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BWW Review: Pioneer Theatre Company's OLIVER! Balances the Dark and Light

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The new professional production of the classic musical OLIVER! at Pioneer Theatre Company strikes a nice balance between the squalor of the story and the optimism of the score.

OLIVER! (music, lyrics, and book by Lionel Bart) is based on the classic Charles Dickens novel OLIVER TWIST. It follows an orphan boy named Oliver on his journey from a workhouse, where he dares to ask for more food, to the clutches of a pickpocket gang and beyond.

Local boy Maxwell Rimington is sweet but spunky and makes a superb Oliver Twist.

Additional local actors who give admirable performances include Christian Labertew as The Artful Dodger, Bailey Cummings as Noah Claypole, Richard Scott as Mr. Brownlow, and Broadway performer Natalie Hill as Nancy. Hill's interpretation of the iconic character is strong and layered, topped with wonderful vocals.

Bill Nolte as Fagin keeps the audience enrapt with his captivating performance--especially when performing solo onstage. Howard Kaye, who charmed in IT HAPPENED ONE CHRISTMAS at PTC last holiday season, returns in a very different role as a believably short-tempered Bill Sykes.

Broadway regulars Kevin Ligon as Mr. Bumble and Linda Griffin as Mrs. Corney provide laughs to spare in their enjoyable scenes together.

The only major misstep in the production is the casting of girls as Fagin's boys. The girls' inclusion in the workhouse scene, while jarring at first, works in context because they play female workers. When playing members of Fagin's gang, however, they are clearly girls in boys' clothing and pull the audience out of the action. It gives off a community theatre vibe and is unfortunate because, of all the theatres in the area (many of which regularly cast all boys in this show), this is the one with the most resources to recruit talented boy actors.

It is extremely difficult to find the right balance between the drama and humor of OLIVER!. The story is one of abuse and violence, but the music is mostly upbeat and positive. If either side is overly emphasized, the production won't work. Director/choreographer Karen Azenberg has admirably found a way to visualize the squalor of the setting while maintaining a storybook quality that keeps the music from feeling out of place.

Much of the credit can be given to the scenic design by PTC mainstay George Maxwell. The well-utilized turntable and spectacularly detailed cityscape create a magnificent backdrop for the action. It is splendidly lit by Kirk Bookman's lighting design. The costume design by K.L. Alberts and hair and makeup design by Amanda French may be a tad precious in some instances, but overall serve the show nicely by striking that balance between dark and light.

Music director Tom Griffin extracts enjoyable, apropos vocal performances from the performers and conducts a brilliant orchestra that does more than justice to the memorable music.

OLIVER! plays through December 17, 2016. For tickets, call the box office at 801-581-6961 or visit www.pioneertheatre.org.

Photo Credit: Maxwell Rimington (Oliver Twist)


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