Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Oliver!
Goodspeed Opera House
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's reviews of A Flea in Her Ear and Grease and Fred's review of Artney Jackson


Gavin Swartz, EJ Zimmerman and Cast
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Goodspeed Opera House is currently presenting an enjoyable, highly respectable revival of Lionel Bart's Oliver!. The musical is a certified classic, though known more to me from several cast album recordings and the 1968 movie. This production feels somewhat dark and a bit book-heavy, which be attributed more to the material than the staging.

Director Rob Ruggiero has done his customarily strong work in presenting Oliver! and his cast is uniformly good, with a few actors managing to really stand out. Ruggiero also works brilliantly with his design team; Michael Schweikardt's two-level set is absolutely stunning. The atmospheric feel is fully supported by Alejo Vietti's wonderful costume design and the striking lighting design by John Lasiter.

But this production is much more than just good looks. Lionel Bart's score sounds great, as sung by this company of actors, and just about every role in the show is expertly filled, with Donald Corren's Fagin and EJ Zimmerman's lovely Nancy shining brightest.

As the title character, Elijah Rayman looks appropriately fresh faced and he is a terrific vocalist, with especially fine renditions of "Where Is Love?" and "Who Will Buy?" Actually, the performances of all of the young actors in the show are satisfying and they do a good job collectively singing the full company numbers, "Food, Glorious, Food," followed closely after by the title song.

Speaking of young performers, Gavin Swartz is just dandy as The Artful Dodger, leading an enticing "Consider Yourself." Richard R. Henry is the perfect Mr. Bumble and Brandon Andrus is downright terrifying (as he must be) as the dangerous Bill Sykes.

When Zimmerman makes her entrance as Nancy rather late in the first act, she is like a breath of fresh air. Wearing a gorgeous red dress, she seems to lighten up the whole show and does extremely well with "It's a Fine Life" and the infectious second act opener, "Oom-Pah-Pah." She is truly at her best in Nancy's big song, "As Long as He Needs Me," which she sings to a fare-thee-well. Zimmerman's Nancy is enormously touching in her devotion to Oliver and one can almost understand her tragic attraction to the abusive Bill Sykes.

As Fagin, Donald Corren is a real charmer, making the most out of all of his lines and being quite believable in this rather dastardly, yet comedic, role. He is quite persuasive in "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" and does a pleasurable job with "Be Back Soon." His real showstopper is the second act anthem, "Reviewing the Situation," and the actor is both hilarious and desperate as he sings about the dilemma Fagin is faced with and he seems to grow funnier and more charismatic as he delivers the number. Complementing Corren's work, director Rob Ruggiero has added a nice touch that brings to mind Fiddler on the Roof, which Ruggiero successfully staged at Goodspeed Opera House a few years ago.

The ever reliable and fantastic music director Michael O'Flaherty leads the offstage band beautifully, and a word must be said about the impressive choreography provided by James Gray, which is all the more remarkable considering how small the stage is.

Oliver! truly excels where it counts in Goodspeed Opera House's production, namely in the fabulous singing by the entire cast and the show's authentic look and feel of Victorian England, making a visit to this show highly engaging.

Oliver!, through September 13, 2018, at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam CT. For tickets, please visit www.goodspeed.org or call the box office at 860-873-8668.


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