Sunday, June 5, 2016

"Oliver" Will Warmly Pick The Pockets Of Your Heart--Now Showing At the James F. Dean Theatre

First published as a serial from 1837 to 1839, Oliver Twist became Charles Dickens second novel in 1838. A story about an orphan named Oliver, the boy starts his life in a cruel workhouse where he is branded as a troublemaker after asking for more gruel and then sold into an apprenticeship with an undertaker. He escapes from there and travels to London and meets the Artful Dodger, a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal Fagin. As the story progresses, a bit of a "twist" is revealed--a turn in the plot that may have influenced Dickens in the naming of his main character.

Actually there are varying explanations for the name Oliver Twist. In the story, Mr. Bumble randomly picked the name Oliver for the orphaned child and used an alphabetical system to come up with Twist. Twist could also be a play on the words "all of a twist." However, Oliver and his name may have been based on a young workhouse boy Dickens knew while growing up named Peter Tolliver.

In 1960, the story was loosely turned into an English musical called Oliver with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. It premiered in the West End of London and enjoyed a successful long run. In 1963, David Merrick brought Oliver to Broadway. Since, there have been numerous tours and revivals, and now has found its way to the humble stage of the James F. Dean Theatre.

The Flowertown Players successful and entertaining opening night production of Oliver was a coordinated group effort of 30 youngsters and adults nicely choreographed and musically orchestrated by director Jenney Aubrey and Company. With a Victorian London skyline painted across the upper portion of the stage for a backdrop, Kem Welch's realistically appointed set, constructed by Chrissy and Ernie Eliason, fostered the crucial atmosphere for this period piece based off of the inspirations and recollections of England's beloved writer of the 1800's.

As the story of Oliver's life and travels were paraded across the stage from the workhouse scene to the streets and establishments of Gothic London, the constantly changing scenes were managed with precision by Ashley-Ann Woods and Crew.

Aiding visually to the play, Nicole Harrison's cleverly designed costumes from the workhouse orphans to Mr. Brownlow are imaginative and fittingly portray the dress and styles of London's 1800's social hierarchy as Charles Dickens would have seen it.

The capable cast of performers infused Oliver with high energy and dedicated passion. It is unmistakably obvious each and everyone of them thoroughly enjoy doing the show and go all out to sell the plays song and dance routines.

Jonah Streff, in his first singing role with the Flowertown Players, is the epitome of Oliver. Meaning, if I were to picture in my mind what the real Oliver would have looked liked according to the imagines of Dickens, Jonah would be it, and of course, the costume greatly helped in this regard. He hit the right notes in his rendition of "Where is Love?", when Oliver was forced to sleep on a coffin and his collaboration with Sam Daniel, The Artful Dodger, in "Consider Yourself", when he is invited by the kindly pickpocket to come and live in Fagin's lair--definitely a play favorite and admirably executed by Sam Daniel.

Fagin (Bill Terranouk) is an elderly criminal who oversees the gang of young pickpockets. When Oliver is brought to him, he teaches the boy their ways. Cloaked in a tattered overcoat and haloed in a briny appearance, Bill Terranouk, in a crusty grumble, delivered his signature songs of the play "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" and "Reviewing the Situation."

Some of the more unsavory characters Oliver interacts with include Mr. Bumble, the workhouse manager, played by Fred Maidment and Widow Corney, played by Kate Berrio, both heartless and greedy individuals. Fred and Kate are paired in one of the more humorous songs of the play, "I Shall Scream", where Kate showcased her expressive facial skills ranging from flirtatious to standoffish. Then, sold by Mr. Bumble, Oliver comes in contact with the equally unpleasant Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (Charles Soderlund and Gretchen Gabriel). But the most odious of the characters is the brutal Bill Sykes (Jason Olson), introduced into the play by the song "My Name". He commits the worst of offenses, murder.

Not all the characters Oliver confronts are interested in what they can do to him rather than what they can do for him. Mr. Brownlow (Chad Estel), a victim of the young pickpockets, and Bet (Casey Dorman) ultimately seek Oliver's best interests. Mr. Brownlow is a key part of the twist in the story line.

Finally, there is the unfortunate Nancy, who also has a tender heart. Unfortunate because she loves Bill Sykes and tender because she ultimately seeks to do right by Oliver and makes the ultimate sacrifice. Nancy is played by Sarah Daniel, who is no stranger to the stage and is the lead singer in a local Summerville band. She partakes in two of the plays favorite songs--the lighthearted "Oom Pah Pah" and the highly emotional "As Long As He Needs Me." One, bringing out her playful side and the other, her passionate side--highlighted by powerful vocals.

Honorable mentions goes to Ben Soule for his portrayal of Charley Bates. Ben was a delight to watch and his enthusiasm was indisputable as was the entire group of young actors in the opening number of "Food Glorious Food."

Oliver is the Flowertown Players at their best. It will warmly pick the pockets of your heart and leave you repeating the orphan boy's opening words "Please, sir, I want some more."

Showing June 3-19. Purchase tickets for Oliver.

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