As mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh noted in a recent interview, a major factor in his success (Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, and Les MisÚrables) is the choice of material, namely classic writers such as Victor Hugo, T.S. Eliot, and, in the case of the current national tour that opens in Denver (Oliver!), Charles Dickens.
|Sir Cameron Mackintosh|
But of all these productions, Oliver! stands alone in its specific targeting of young audiences. The production not only has more children in its cast (16) than any other touring musical, but two of its stars are kids.
Given Dickens' penchant for social commentary, particularly his criticisms of British child labor laws, the opening scenes of the show, which take place in a workhouse, are necessary to remain faithful to the book and to establish the life of drudgery and abuse that Oliver faces.
That said, the current production doesn't take off until mid-way through the first act, when Oliver has escaped from the workhouse and from his first private owner, Mr. Sowerberry the undertaker, and met up with the Artful Dodger, who welcomes him into a life of crime with "Consider Yourself."
This scene having opened the door for the comedic elements, including Fagen's whitewashing of his dirty vocation in "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two," we are then treated to a series of colorful scenes, including the exquisite public house at the wharf, replete with passing sailing ship, curling mainsail and all.
The spectacle continues throughout the second act, beginning with the "Oom-Pah-Pah" drinking song, followed by the circus clowns, strongman, aerialists, balloons, and rose, strawberry, and milk vendors in "Who Will Buy?", and culminating in a wild and frenetic finale.
The casting and directorial choices in a couple of areas break form, but work very well. In particular, I enjoyed Mark McCracken's Giacometti-esque Fagin, who is boyish enough, without losing his edge, to make his final epiphany believable, even after his sniveling, duplicitous, self-centered, "Reviewing the Situation".
Renata Reneé Wilson's Nancy is powerful, and her "As Long as He Needs Me" brings down the house.
Justin Pereira and Andrew Blau give knockout performances as Oliver and the Artful Dodger, shining in "Where Is Love?" and "Consider Yourself".
I wish the script would have introduced Bill Sikes earlier, since Shane R. Tanner's work creates a threatening presence that would have thematically tied together the dark atmospherics of the opening scenes with the sinister intrigues of the second act. I also had difficulty with some of the Cockney dialects, which were more genuine than the representative patois that is called for in American productions.
|Shane R. Tanner (Bill Sikes)|
and Blanca (Bullseye)
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Given that this run opens the tour, the production is in good shape. Adrian Vaux's sets range from functional to extraordinary, Anthony Ward's costumes highlight all the class distinctions and moods with aplomb, and the nine piece orchestra is grand. If you're looking to see our local talent—Parker's Tucker Worley—perform, he is scheduled to play Oliver for the matinee on November 22nd (the closing date). 303-893-4100.
|Photo of Tucker Worley,|
of Parker, Colorado,
cast in national touring
company of Oliver!