Wednesday, September 15, 2010

'Oliver!' Twists the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane - The Review

The classic musical ‘Oliver!’ returns to the London stage once more.  The production revived at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is on a scale that is becoming rare: a huge cast, grand costumes and massive sets. Nothing here looks cheap or over designed to excess.

In the first scene alone, the orphanage is filled with what appears to be a hundred children. The crowd scenes in London are also quite impressive set in dark alleys to bright and sunny piazzas that fill the massive stage appropriately. Equally dramatic is the underground lair where Fagin leads the street orphans which rises from the floor and becomes a multi-story set with the streets of London rising short of the top of the proscenium.

Based on Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, this is a recreation of the 1994 version directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”). Russ Abbot, one of Britian’s most popular television and theatre entertainers, captures the humor and sinister nature of Fagin.

As Nancy, Kerry Ellis is becoming quite the leading lady of the West End (‘Wicked, ‘My Fair Lady, ‘Chess in Concert’) with her warm portrayal that climaxes with the ballad “As Long As He Needs Me”. I have to admit I still find the violent turn of events with her character quite jarring but it is keeping with the novel’s story.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a stage production of ‘Oliver’ and one forgets the number of rich melodies that Lionel Bart composed: "Food, Glorius Food", "Consider Yourself", "I’d Do Anything"  and more.

The obvious obstacle to mounting this musical is the casting of Oliver. Four young actors share the role over eight performances a week. Today’s Oliver is Edward Cooke and well chosen he is. Not once precocious always displaying the perfect timbre of wide eyed innocence and never once delivering any overreaching acting that can be distracting in such an endeavor.

‘Olvier!’ is far less saccharine than 'The Sound of Music' but nevertheless is full of sentimentality. So go ahead and laugh, cry and cheer. Few will be able to resist the charms of this extravagantly staged and tuneful entertainment.



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