By Lionel Bart
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Janis Wilson
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: August 15-31, 2014
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(August 22, 2014)

Based loosely on Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, and first premiering in 1960, Oliver! follows a young orphan caught in circumstances he cannot control, filled with laughter, misadventures, pain, and horror.

oliver-spreckels-theatre-2014-nancy-ensembleThis delightful musical opens with the comedic duo of Abby Chambers as Widow Corney and Sean O’Brien as Mr. Bumble, who use their sense of timing and strong, operatic voices to amusing effect, turning otherwise ne’er-do-well characters into beloved favorites within minutes. They are succeeded by the equally talented Peter Warden as Mr. Sowerberry, whose expressive movement reminded me of Mark Gatiss.

Bridging comedy and drama, Tim Setzer’s Fagin gave the impression of a conflicted villain with his own agenda, yet truly fond of the orphans under his care. His portrayal evoked both laughter and pity, especially in “Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation”, examples of the fine staging of director Gene Abravaya. Fagin’s partner in crime, newcomer Zachary Hasbany as Bill Sykes, looms over the stage with sinister majesty. Kelly Brandeburg’s Nancy is coquettish, yet tragic in her misplaced affections. She has a mesmerizing stage presence and lovely voice, carrying the role with ease. Most memorable of Fagin’s gang is Ari Vozaitis as the Artful Dodger, whose sauntering strut and kindly intentions warm the heart. Vozaitis becomes the Dodger with his whole being, a difficult feat for actors his age, who are often self-conscious.

oliver-spreckels-theatre-2014-nancyIn the melancholic Act Two, Eddy Hansen’s lighting design takes on a somber blue and gold filled with atmospheric London fog casting silhouettes reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes across the stage. The Paradyne projection system, developed by Spreckels Performing Arts Center, is used to great effect, causing many an “ooh” and “aah” from the audience, while at other moments the combination of still images and animation subtly enhance the story depicting scenes of Victorian London.

The brilliant set design by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano evokes the feel of a lavish production of La Bohème, offsetting the rather whimsical interpretation of Victorian era costumes and wigs, which were the only major flaw of the production.

Michella Snider’s dance choreography is light-hearted and uses the actors’ abilities to good effect, showcasing simple, yet effective crowd-pleasing steps. I was especially impressed with some of the children in the Spreckels Summer Youth Workshop, who demonstrated confidence and poise.

If you enjoy musical theatre, Dickens Fair, a good comedy, or all three, Oliver! is an entertaining evening for the whole family. “Consider yourself at home” with Spreckels Theatre Company.