In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s production of “Oliver!” met with enraptured response from its opening-night audience.
“I just loved it; it’s the best one I’ve seen here,” declared my satisfied neighbor, Phyllis Mallette, a longtime Sarasotan, who explained that her father had taken her to the Apple and the Van Wezel in his time, and she was glad “to see the place making a comeback.”
Based on Dickens’ semi-autobiographical novel, “Oliver Twist,” the play was adapted by Lionel Bart, who wrote the book, music and lyrics. It was produced in 1960 at London’s West End and went on to a hugely successful, Tony Award-winning Broadway run in 1963.
“Oliver Twist,” the novel, is a searing indictment of 19th-century England’s treatment of orphans, in particular, and the poor and homeless, in general, during the Industrial Revolution. It employs heavy satire to expose the ruthlessness and hypocrisy of the wealthy and privileged, as well as the larcenous and corrupt, and had a major impact on the nation’s deplorable “poor laws” and other injustices of the period.
Robert Ennis Turoff produced and directed the lively, entertaining musical, with Michael Sebastian as musical director; Jared Walker, costume designer; Trez Cole, set designer; and rousing choreography by Eric Berkel.
The perennially marvelous score features songs, such as “Consider Yourself at Home,” “I’d Do Anything,” “It’s a Fine Life” and “Pick a Pocket or Two.” Some highlights included “As Long as He Needs Me,” beautifully sung by Dianne Dawson as Nancy; a heartbreaking “Where is Love?” sung by Stevie Romero as Oliver; and a cunning rendition of “Reviewing the Situation,” by Steve Dawson, who most engagingly transforms himself into Fagin. Robby May is extremely effective in his dual role of narcissist, Mr. Bumble, singing the plaintive, “Boy for Sale,” and Bill Sykes, villainous psychopath, who sings a chilling “My Name.” Also effective in dual roles as Widow Corney and Mrs. Bedwin is funny Helen Holliday. And Matty Colonna creates a charming Artful Dodger.
In the play’s iconic opener, in which Oliver Twist holds out his tiny bowl and asks for “more” gruel, is followed by an adorable romp as the young cast of “boys” sings “Food, Glorious Food.” The children playing the boys: Summer Boucher, Brett McDowall, Kaity Cairo, Bryson Gregory, Max Lieberman, Evan Huit, and Joshua Roberson.
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