Theatre Review: ‘OLIVER!’: Many will buy ‘this wonderful feeling’

Colin Paduck of Weymouth plays the Artful Dodger, and
Matthew O’Connor, cast in the role of Oliver, is from Hingham. Photo by Zoe Bradford

ONBOSTONSTAGES.BLOG – You might think a musical made from the story of an abused orphan who escapes that fate, only to fall into the clutches of a master thief and a gang of young thieves. might not be an uplifting holiday family tale, but you would be wrong.

The Lionel Bart musical “Oliver!”based on the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist” is at the Company Theatre Center for the Performing Arts through Dec. 16, and it is an entertaining, indeed uplifting story of a plucky orphan’s attempts to find a new life for himself.

As Oliver Twist, Matthew O’Connor appeared to be struggling at times with the higher notes of “Where is Love,” a devil of a song to sing, but he’s just fine acting-wise. Colin Paduck’s Artful Dodger is a sly lad with mischief as his middle name. And Fagin’s Boys are skillfully portrayed by Colin McDermott, Alex Norton,Ben Cavallo-Smith, Charlie Flaherty and Jesse Bargar with energy and enthusiasm.

It sounds like a strange thing to say, but almost everyone in this cast could stand to be a little darker and dirtier and dingier than they were in a recent performance.

Bill Sikes (Damian Smith) is one of the nastiest, dirtiest foulest villains in English language literature – and while the musical is decidedly brighter and lighter than the Dickens novel – access to clean water and regular hygiene in the Victorian era was spotty at best, and the characters – especially those in the lower classes – should reflect that.

Christopher Hagberg’s Fagin is deceitful and duplicitous, double-dealing, cheating and stealing his way to what he hopes some day will be a comfortable, ill-gotten retirement. His songs – “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation” — requires more of an actor than a singer to pull off, and he’s spot-on. But again, he’s one of the cleanest and well-attired Fagins I’ve seen on stage, and that’s a bit off-putting.

There’s some strong supporting performances by Francis Sheehan as Mr. Bumble, the pompous beadle of Oliver’s orphanage who takes up with and eventually marries the Widow Corney (Juliana Dennis) in a rather rocky romance that provides comic relief.

Christopher Spencer and Christa Dunn are the odious Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry, the owners of the funeral home that purchases Oliver from Bumble.

Equity actress Brittany Rolfs as Nancy is a fine musical performer, at home and effective in leading Fagin’s crew and friend Bet (Aliyah Harris) in “It’s a Fine Life” and later in the Three Cripples Pub, the music hall number “Oom-Pah-Pah.”

“As Long As He Needs Me” is a show-stopping “11 o’clock” number and Rolfs aces it, even if it is one of the stranger songs in the score. It’s long been problematical, sung by a woman who has spent years being beaten and abused by Bill Sikes, but won’t betray him in the end.

David Dissori is the wealthy Mr. Brownlow, who takes Oliver home after seeing him falsely accused; Jim Foster has a funny take on Mr. Grimwig, Brownlow’s friend and confidant; and Maureen O’Neill is the caring housekeeper Mrs. Bedwin.

There is a lot to like about this “Oliver!” not the least of which is the energy and enthusiasm that permeates the production numbers choreographed by Sally Ashton Forrest, of which there are many in the superb Lionel Bart score. “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “Oom-pah-pah,” and “Who Will Buy?” are all artfully conceived.

And, oh, yes, kudos for finding Remington, just the right canine to play Bullseye, Bill Sikes’ hound.

Conductor Steve Bass leads an 11-piece orchestra in a faithful rendition of the score.

Co-directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, the founders of the theater, have worked together on more than 200 plays and musicals, and they rarely disappoint.

The Company Theatre is marking 40 years of theater this season, not only surviving for that span but the troupe has expanded and grown, training youthful talent in The Academy of the Company Theatre.

At one point in “Oliver!” the title character sings: “Who will buy this wonderful feeling?”

Many will, and they should.

The Company Theatre Center for the Performing Arts production of “Oliver!”Book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman. Set design by Ryan Barrow. Costume design by Kathryn Ridder. Lighting design by Adam Clark. Musical direction by Steve Bass. At The Company Theatre through Dec. 16. Companytheatre.com

By Rich Fahey

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