Theatre Under the Stars

Music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart

Dates and Venue July 11 - August 22, 2015 at 8pm on alternating nights | Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park

Director Shel Piercy Set Design Brian Bell Costume Design Chris Sinosich Sound Design Robin Boxwell Lighting Design Gerald King Stage Manager Inga McLaughlin

Oliver Twist Carly Ronning The Artful Dodger Nathan Piasecki Fagin Stephen Aberle Bill Sykes Damon Calderwood Nancy Elizabeth Marie West

Reviewer John Jane

Oliver! based on the Charles Dickens classic novel "Oliver Twist," is the magnum opus of Lionel Bart, a working class Jewish kid from London's East End. It was a massive stage success almost as soon as it opened in London's theatre district. It became the first British musical to be successfully exported to Broadway, despite the authentic Cockney accents.

Oliver! – the musical has been hanging around small theatres, church halls and school gymnasiums for almost as long as the Dickens’ original has been sitting on book shelves and kept it’s brilliant creator in vodka until he died destitute in 1999.

This Theatre Under the Stars production of Oliver! and the audience participation pre-show of a mock Village Fair is very much a romantic portrayal of the human conditions that prevailed among the pauper class in Victorian London. In this sanitised adaptation of Dickens, Oliver Twist is reduced to a secondary character. He doesn’t even get the best songs.

Some praiseworthy performances by theatre veterans and spirited performances by promising newcomers made this piece of nostalgic musical theatre into an entertaining spectacle. Stephen Aberle is simply outstanding as that grisly old reprobate Fagin, whose self-serving dogma negates any redeeming features he may have had as a guardian or benefactor. Aberle's reading of Fagin is primarily comic – at times even cartoonish, but he still manages to bring to the character a certain camp that has a perverse edge. Aberle is hardly at his best when leading a preposterous sing-along version of “Consider Yourself,” but turns the wickedness dial up a couple of notches with his renditions of "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" and "Reviewing the Situation."

Damon Calderwood showed off his baritone voice in his two roles that were diametrically opposite in range: the blustery Mr Bumble in the first act and the thuggish Bill Sykes in the second act. Though, why was his voice amplifier adjusted at a higher volume than any of the other performers?

Elizabeth Marie West turns in an accomplished performance as Nancy, notwithstanding that she looks far too urbane to be a gangster’s strumpet. There would seem to be a conflict of narrative in Nancy’s relationship with Bill Sykes. In singing the show-stopping “As long as he needs me,” she declares her unceasing love, yet ultimately sells him down the river.

Carly Ronning acquitted herself well playing across gender as Oliver in her theatrical debut and Nathan Piasecki as the Artful Dodger is showing himself a worthy veteran in TUTS productions. Though, both would likely have benefited from tighter direction.

Okay, so Oliver! is pure musical theatre for family entertainment. Yet, like the novel that served as inspiration, it is at its core, a morality tale and there is nothing wrong with that.

© 2015 John Jane