BWW Review: OLIVER! at SOUTH BEND CIVIC THEATRE
To continue their tradition of producing a classic musical during the summer, the South Bend Civic Theatre presented Oliver! with a cast of more than 40 people to filled audiences. The tone of the show was instantly set with a wonderfully charming London bridge designed by Jeff Barrick. Unfortunately the tone was then smashed by a horribly electric sounding music track of the overture with trumpets that were more reminiscent of synthesizers than anything else. This confusing clash continued throughout the production leading to a mixed bag of a show. More clarification on that thought later.
In Act 1 of the show the ensemble lacked the proper energy to get the audience's immediate attention leading to delayed applause. The good news was the first Act was also full of fun and energetic performances including Michael Ball as Mr. Bumble, Dawn Hagerty as Mrs. Corney, Justin Green as Mr. Sowerberry, and Libby Klesmith as Mrs. Sowerberry. The downside being was all of these roles were a relatively short part of the musical.
Another actor who helped bring the show's life and energy up was Art Kopec as Fagin. Comedically stunning, Kopec takes the sly yet clumsy bum-like character and makes him the most likable of the show. He had the most consistent energy which lead to the most consistent laughs of the show. Songs like "Reviewing the Situation" which are debatably long, dragged out, and melodically repetitive work so well because of his understanding of the lyrics and spot-on delivery of them. Beyond this he also opens up layers of the character which can be seen as he talks to Oliver.
Speaking of Oliver, the leading actor, Braydon Goddard, does an admirable job playing Oliver for a child his age; reacting believably enough for the audience to attach themselves to this poor orphan boy's tragic story.
While all of the other child actors did fine, one of the stand out performances was Corin Shepley who exudes charm as the artful Dodger. He is clear and concise on all of his comedic timing and brings light to the dark story.
Highlighting the dark elements of the show is Bill Sykes, played by Michael Clarkson who enters the stage with a fittingly menacing presence that shifts the joyful moments of the show to nerve-wracking moments almost immediately.
Then there is the case of Natalie MacRae-Waggoner playing Nancy, Bill Sykes' girlfriend who is physically and verbally abused by the villain. As far as voice goes, MacRae-Waggoner has a powerful and graceful tone considering the lower-class accent she has to maintain.
However, when portraying such a complex character, MacRae-Waggoner falls short of emphasizing all of the layers of the character leaving songs like "As Long as He Needs Me" sounding beautiful but feeling slightly emotionally empty. This is not to say she is void of any acting choices in her performance; they just weren't choices that landed with the audience well enough to help relate or emote heavily to the character.
When it comes to the musical numbers of the show, the first Act has more memorable tunes, but the second Act had better performances. The ensemble was warmed up and ready to bring the energy necessary to liven up the show. The choreographer, Tom Myers, had fittingly jovial choreography that was just as grand a scale as it needed to be. Numbers like "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" were full of entertainment and clever movement.
The problem dance-wise was in numbers like "Consider Yourself" and "Who will Buy?". The Ensemble couldn't keep track of each other. Someone would be off nearly each moment and your eyes shot straight to them.
The music vocally, directed by Roy Bronkema, sounded marvelous. "Who will Buy?" was a standout favorite of mine with chords that were crisp yet flowing so elegantly through the melody line that the imagery of the lyrics really sent you to the beautiful London morning set on stage. (Also much appreciation to sound board operator Brennan Walker - The South Bend Civic's mics have never sounded better)
Other nitpicks consist of modern looks, such as Oliver's modern hair-do and Mrs. Bedwin's makeup which distracted from Jennifer Medich's lovely costumes, and music tracks which actors were consistently trying to keep up with or vice-versa. I am aware not every show can have a pit, but the music tracks were distracting nonetheless.
Overall, the South Bend Civic Theatre's production of Oliver! was clumsily filled with pros and cons - none of which can all be blamed on one person, but is still a show I would recommend to anyone who hasn't seen the show before (as a surprising half of the audience hadn't). Ted Manier's direction helped make a production that was respectful to the original work, but still comprehensible and well paced for modern audiences.
OLIVER! continues performances through July 27th, 2019 at the South Bend Civic Theatre. Tickets are available at the South Bend Civic Theatre, online at www.sbct.org, or by calling (574)234-1112.
Photo Credits: Andrew S. Hughes