Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Oliver!
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Apple Family Cycle: Sorry and Regular Singing


Jeff McCarthy and Jake Heston Miller
Photo by Margot Schulman
Oliver! has long been a beloved musical, but the jolt it receives in Molly Smith's updated production in the Fichandler Stage at Washington's Arena Stage makes it a thrilling experience.

Smith points out in her program notes that issues such as homelessness, child neglect, and social inequality are just as entrenched today as they were when Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist in the 1830s. The hard edges she brings out of Lionel Bart's book and lyrics were always there; she just adds to their immediacy, aided by Todd Rosenthal's immersive scenic design that places the audience "under the bridge" and in the streets with the characters.

Similarly, musical director Paul Sportelli has introduced some rhythmic variation to Bart's songs that pays off surprisingly well: for example, the workhouse boys put a hip-hop spin on "Food, Glorious Food," while "As Long as He Needs Me" becomes a power ballad. He also leads the strong orchestra from underneath the stage. Parker Esse has created percussive, eye-filling choreography that borrows from both street moves and acrobatics.

Jake Heston Miller is a sweet and guileless Oliver with his white-blond hair and open face. He holds his own alongside pros like Jeff McCarthy, a solidly entertaining Fagin, and Eleasha Gamble as an outwardly tough Nancy with a hidden generous soul. Ian Lassiter is a genuinely menacing Bill Sykes, and the obvious passion depicted between Gamble and Lassiter makes one understand better why Nancy remains devoted to a violent man who beats her.

Performers showing off in smaller roles are the well-matched Paul Vogt as Mr. Bumble and Rayanne Gonzales as Widow Corney, Kyle Coffman as an unflappable Artful Dodger, and Tom Story as the pompous undertaker Mr. Sowerberry. (Why, though, did Smith feel the need to play up the kinky sexual dynamics between Sowerberry and his wife, played as a dominatrix by Dorea Schmidt?)

Rosenthal's set incorporates found objects (a sign for a London Underground station, hot food carts) with a metal bridge high across the stage, allowing for dramatic moments both metaphorical—as when "proper" citizens of London look down on the poor below—and literal, when several characters collide on London Bridge.

Arena Stage
Oliver!
October 30th - January 3rd, 2016
Music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart
Oliver Twist: Jake Heston Miller
Mr. Bumble: Paul Vogt
Widow Corney/Strawberry Seller: Rayanne Gonzales
Noah Claypole: Kyle Schliefer
Mr. Sowerberry/Chairman/Second Bowrunner: Tom Story
Mrs. Sowerberry/Mrs. Bedwin: Dorea Schmidt
Charlotte: Lara Zinn
The Artful Dodger: Kyle Coffman
Fagin: Jeff McCarthy
Nancy: Eleasha Gamble
Charley Bates: Chaz Jackson
Bet/Dance Captain: Jesse Palmer
Old Sally/Rose Seller: Catherine Flye
Old Lady/Milk Maid: Lauren Gemelli
Bill Sykes: Ian Lassiter
Mr. Brownlow: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Dr. Grimwig/First Bowrunner: Stephen Gregory Smith
Pauper Asst./Knife Grinder/Night Watchman: Kyle Vaughn
Workhouse Boy/Fagin's Gang/Long Song Seller: Ian Anthony Coleman
Workhouse Boy/Fagin's Gang: Mohammed Badawi
Workhouse Boy/Fagin's Gang: Sebastian Gervase
Workhouse Boy/Fagin's Gang: Henry Niepotter
Workhouse Boy/Fagin's Gang: Ethan Van Slyke Female Swing: Jane Bunting
Male Swing: Jimmy Mavrikes
Directed by Molly Smith
Choreographer: Parker Esse
Music Director: Paul Sportelli
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW Washington, DC Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.


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