Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Oliver! was the first musical adaptation of a famous Charles Dickens work to become a stage hit. There had been two previous Dickens musicals in the 1950s, both of them were television adaptations of "A Christmas Carol." The plot of Dickens' original "Oliver Twist" is simplified for the purposes of the musical, with the character of Fagin being represented more as a comic character than as a villain.
Set in the 1830s, a young orphan named Oliver (Cruz M. Santiago) dares to ask for another cup of gruel at meal time, uttering the famous line "Please, sir, I want some more." His request leads him to be sold by Mr. Bumble (Ken Clement) to an undertaker (Mark A. Harmon) and his shrewish wife (Maribeth Graham). Oliver escapes his servitude, running into another orphan named The Artful Dodger (Kyle Christensen) who works as a pickpocket for a man named Fagin (Gary Marachek). The Artful Dodger is one of many children who live with and work for the crooked Fagin, who is surrounded by prostitutes like Nancy (Amy Miller Brennan) and thieves like Bill Sikes (Shane R. Tanner). After Oliver is unfairly accused of stealing, he finds himself in the care of a kindly man named Mr. Brownlow (Tim Crowther). His happiness is short-lived, however, when he is snatched back into Fagin's fold. His proposed return to Mr. Brownlow is a source of conflict that results in violence before the tale at last comes to a happy ending for Oliver.
This production of Oliver!, presented by the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Mile Theatre, features a cast of 22 adults, and two ensembles of 16 children. The children's ensembles, called the "Thieves" cast and the "Bandits" cast, rotate performances. You may check to see which cast you will be seeing in advance. On the night attended, the Thieves cast performed.
Cruz M. Santiago (Oliver) has the singing voice of an angel and the polished musicianship of an adult. Each of his songs are performed strongly enough to stand on their own, even outside the context of the show. His training is obvious, and his attention to finding the most of the meaning of each song is remarkable. Ken Clement (Mr. Bumble) is never better than when perfectly paired with Elizabeth Dimon (Widow Corney). They are delightful character actors. Gary Marachek's performance as Fagin bears much similarity to his previous Actors' Playhouse performance as Thenardier in Les Miserables. The difference is that his Thenardier is overtly foul and sexual, while his Fagin is non-specifically creepy. The fact that we cannot predict his reactions and his motivation makes the possibilities vastly more interesting. His "Reviewing The Situation" clearly demonstrates how much he enjoys playing these characters we love to hate.
Shane R. Tannner is menacing as Bill Sikes. His normally resonant baritone sound is admirably disguised with a harsh, growl of a voice that evokes appropriate fear. Amy Miller Brennan is almost too lovely and sweet as good-hearted prostitute Nancy. The stage version of Oliver! is a bit darker than the film version, and she needs to bring a bit more of that with her. The ensemble is peppered with notable local actors who unfortunately do not get the opportunity to be featured in a way that showcases their abilities. The accent work is on point, except for Patti Gardner as Mrs. Bedwin who seems to vary between an English accent and a German one.
Amy Miller Brennan (Nancy) sings the song "As Long As He Needs Me" beautifully, but is in need of staging help. The script regrettably does little to make that moment in the show logical or organic. Bill Sikes roughly paws Nancy a bit as he kisses her, then slaps her across the face and pushes her to the ground when she declines to follow his instructions. It just doesn't seem to warrant many choruses of "As Long As He Needs Me" (plus a reprise). Standing center stage in a spotlight makes the song feel even more disconnected. It comes off like a number in a cabaret act, and frankly, her talented vocals deserve more thought to staging.
The show has some staging issues which may be due to the ponderous size of the set. The first number, "Food Glorious Food," is choreographed quite enjoyably, but other numbers seem uninspired. "Who Will Buy" has vendors standing about awkwardly with their wares. Later, as the full ensemble comes on, they fill downstage in a line and move around in place with little choreography or thought to making a picture on stage. It feels like they just don't have enough room. Another peculiar moment is when someone declares, "There has been a murder!" and suddenly a dozen cast members pile on stage from nowhere, and run to the spot with the body, without reacting to one another or the situation on the way there. Despite these issues, this production of Oliver! is worth seeing for its wonderful character actor moments and well sung renditions of familiar songs such as "Where Is Love", "Consider Yourself", "I'd Do Anything", "Oom-Pah-Pah" and "Food Glorious Food."
Thoughtfully timed to match this production of Oliver!, The Children's Trust Miami Heart Gallery photo exhibit, promoting the adoption of foster children in Miami-Dade County, will be on display in the lobby of the Actors' Playhouse Theatre until January 7th. With an adoption rate of nearly 50%, the exhibit is comprised of 44 portraits taken by some of the world's top photographers who donate their time to this worthwhile project. Barbara S. Stein, the Executive Producing Director of Actors' Playhouse, said, "We are particularly excited to offer every child in The Children's Trust Miami Heart gallery an opportunity to experience live theater by coming to see the show as our gift to them." The exhibit is available to theater ticket holders, and free of charge to non ticket holders, MondayFriday, 12:002:00 PM, and during show times, by visiting the box office for a complimentary pass. The Children's Trust Miami Heart Gallery is a partnership between The Children's Trust and OurKids, the private agency responsible for foster care and adoption in Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys. Anyone interested in learning more about adopting a foster child should call the Children's Trust Helpline at 211 or visit www.miamiheartgallery.org.
Oliver! will be appearing through December 26, 2010, at the Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables. Actors' Playhouse is a Florida Presenting Cultural Organization and a nonprofit professional regional theatre hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. In addition to its Mainstage season, Actors' Playhouse produces a year-round five-show season of Musical Theatre for Young Audiences, a National Children's Theatre Festival, and a Theatre Conservatory and Summer Camp Program. Actors' Playhouse is located at 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida. Performances are usually Wednesday - Saturday at 8:00 PM, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 PM. Information and tickets may be obtained by contacting the theater at their box office at (305) 444-9293, or online at www.actorsplayhouse.org.
+Indicates member of "Thieves" cast
++Indicates member of "Bandits" cast
*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.