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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Oliver! at the Paramount

Also see David's review of South Pacific

Ever since a little orphan named Annie made the musical theatre scene in the mid-1970s, Lionel Bart's Oliver!, based on Charles Dickens' literary classic Oliver Twist, hasn't been heard from as often. A Broadway revival, if thoughtfully tightened and re-worked a bit to flow more like the Oscar-winning film version might restore the piece to a higher level of prominence, but that does not appear likely. The non-Equity NETworks tour currently performing around the U.S., now at the Paramount, is adapted from the Cameron Mackintosh London Palladium version and a decent effort, but hardly more than that. However, the upbeat response from the Seattle opening night audience proves that the show is still an unabashed crowd pleaser.

Bart's book, music and lyrics are capable and likable, even if the telling of the tale is rather a CliffsNotes version of the original book. No Les Miserables this, but for those of us who are weary of that long-running epic, that's not such a bad thing. Basically, orphaned Oliver, after banishment from a workhouse and a dreadful episode working in a funeral parlor, is adopted by wily master thief Fagin and his cherubic band of pickpockets. Oliver touches the heart of kindly, doomed barmaid Nancy and riles her badder-than-bad criminal beau Bill Sikes, who learns that Oliver is actually the heir of a wealthy family. A few deaths and wild chases later, Oliver is reunited with his grandfather, the boys all face brighter and better fed tomorrows, and Fagin and his sidekick the Artful Dodger slink off towards new misadventures.

Directed competently but without any special flair by Graham Gill and choreographed (from Matthew Bourne's originals) by Geoffrey Garratt, the large cast is exuberant and spits out every consonant of Bart's lyrics with unusual clarity. Mark McCracken as Fagin is a bit too benevolent, but has the appropriate vaudevillian air required for such numbers as "You've Got to Pick A Pocket or Two," "Be Back Soon," and his soliloquy, "Reviewing the Situation." Renata Reneé Wilson as Nancy has a gorgeous rich belt voice that makes her big solo ballad "As Long As He Needs Me" a highpoint and creates a robust, tough yet sympathetic heroine. Andrew Blau is a game Artful Dodger, easily overshadowing Ryan Tutton's wan and vocally undernourished Oliver. David L. George is a blustery Mr. Bumble, revealing a knockout tenor voice on his "Boy For Sale" solo and showing comic flair opposite Gwen Eyster's agreeably blowzy Widow Corney in their duet "I Shall Scream," though at half its normal length, the number feels like more of a throwaway than it usually does in this show. As the one-dimensionally evil Bill Sikes, Shane R. Tanner is acceptably menacing.

Adrian Vaux's set design is colorful and made to handle the many quick changes smoothly, and Jenny Kagan's lighting design is satisfying, as are Anthony Ward's many costumes.

It's always nice to hear Bart's hummable score again, and while not winning any plaudits for originality, this Oliver! serves at the very least as a fair introduction of the score and story to younger audience members.

Oliver! runs through October 3 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th Avenue & Pine Street in downtown Seattle. For more information visit the Paramount online at www.theparamount.com.



- David-Edward Hughes



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