Although Charles Dickens may have written his great novel, "Oliver Twist," as a dark social treatise against mid-1800s London society, the much-loved musical adaptation known simply as "Oliver!" presents a brightened up version of the gritty tale. Unlike the more serious-toned book, it is also a good deal of fun for audiences of all ages.
Thunder Bay Theatre is currently presenting this classic stage production with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart.
Directed by Derek Spack, the show's got all of the elements one would expect. Lots of cute tykes playing London street urchins. Check. Familiar tunes. Check. Good set and good costumes. Check. Lots of drama, lots of comic moments and a bona fide bad guy. Check.
Since this is a musical, kudos go out to Music Director Bunny Lyon. Plus the beautiful music accompaniment on opening night of Lyon on keyboard, Kaitlyn Tomaszewski on saxophone and Mary Ann Hubbard on flute (Kathryn Cook also plays the flute some nights) gave the many musical numbers a noticeable dash of verve.
TBT's "Oliver!" opens up in a Londonesque workhouse with the kids clad in ragged pants and shirts singing the choreographed and spirited "Food Glorious Food." Who knew that starving could be so delightful?
The workhouse of "Oliver Twist" fame is a place where young orphaned kids are oppressively forced into service and fed only gruel. It is Oliver, played earnestly and sincerely by Eli Irving, who gathers up the courage to ask for more food.
This request leads to Oliver's immediate apprehension as he is told to gather up his belongings by Mr. Brumble (David Usher) and the Widow Carney (JoLee Greer). Usher never fails to entertain and especially so while making amorous advances toward the widow, who pretends to resist him in the song, "I Shall Scream." Eventually, these two fun characters end up married, though not very happily.
Oliver soon finds himself apprenticed to an undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry, and his wife. Tom Carney and Terry Carlson both give outstanding performances in these two roles as they taunt Oliver, including via the song, "It's Your Funeral." Quite amusingly, Carlson's Mrs. Sowerberry becomes hysterical when Oliver starts pummeling their bully of a helper (Zach Clement) which cruelly lands Oliver stuffed and locked in a coffin.
Oliver uses a distraction at the undertaker's to escape and then, out on the mean streets, he meets a wily pickpocket called The Artful Dodger (Molly Stricker). Through a wonderful rendition of "Consider Yourself" sung by Stricker, Oliver is invited to join the charismatic Artful Dodger at the lair of the notorious Fagin.
TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez returns to the stage for what is likely the best role in the show. His superbly acted Fagin is devilish and full of deft comic touches as he goes about the business of teaching young boys to pick pockets. Rodriguez pretty much hits it out of the park with the funny songs, "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" and "Reviewing the Situation."
Another TBT core company actor who gives an exceptional performance in "Oliver!" is Kendra McInerney as Nancy, the ill-fated girlfriend of the evil Bill Sikes. Her voice shines whether it's in the soulful "I'd Do Anything" about her undying love for Sikes or in the old tavern standard, "Oom Pah Pah," that she delivers with joyful enthusiasm.
It is not until the second act that Bill Sikes makes his first appearance on the scene. Erik Johnson is convincing as this mean, brutal criminal who Nancy just can't help loving despite his abuses.
The play contains a thrilling plot twist and for most characters, things turn out in the end in a satisfying fashion. The wealthy Mr. Brownlow (well played by Bruce Michaud) has a hand in the eventual outcome.
Rounding out the cast are Mandee Henkel as Charlotte, Phineus Imhoff as Charley Bates, Karisa Meier as Bet, Scott Edgar as the Chairman, Nickie Hilton as Mrs. Bedwin and Travis Atkinson as Dr. Grimwig.
Playing dual roles as the workhouse boys and Fagin's boys are Joshua Meier, Riley McGuire, Malley McGuire, Chloe Brothers, Swasti Shree, Dylan Goike and Nikita McCallum.
Remaining performance of "Oliver!" are today through Aug. 21 with show times at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
For reservations, call the TBT box office at 354-2267.