As you probably know from the book or one its many adaptations, Oliver is an orphan boy in 19th Century London. He's sold from the workhouse where he was left as a baby to a coffin maker, from whom he runs away. He joins a merry band of pickpockets, led by a man called Fagin who teaches his boys how to steal and makes sure they don't go hungry. Oliver is arrested on his first day on the job, and offered a better life. But Fagin and his partner in crime Bill Sykes worry that he'll snitch, so Bill kidnaps him and brings him back, with the reluctant help of his girlfriend Nancy. In a bit of an Annie situation, Oliver's true family discovers him with the help of a locket and attempts to get him back, but not without cost to Fagin's gang.
Oliver! has a wonderful score (by Lionel Bart) filled with many great tunes, several of which were familiar to me even though I'd never seen the show before: "Food, Glorious Food," "I'd Do Anything," and "As Long as He Needs Me" (a song that's much too beautiful for the ugly situation - a woman singing about standing by her abusive boyfriend). Other songs range also the poignant "Where is Love" to the peppy "Consider Yourself." And it goes without saying that the music in a Latte Da production sounds fantastic, in the hands of this excellent ensemble cast (which includes the Minnesota Boychoir as the workhouse orphans) and the six-piece orchestra in a traditional pit, led by Latte Da's resident Music Director Denise Prosek.
|Fagin and his band of merry pickpockets|
(photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
The adults in this show aren't half bad either. James Ramlet's deep and commanding voice makes Mr. Bumble a figure to be reckoned with, and plays nicely off of Lolly Foy's Widow Corney. As Nancy, Lauren Davis has a beautifully powerful voice and turns "As Long as He Needs Me" into a desperate cry for love. In a role that's the complete opposite of the bumbling dad he played in A Christmas Story at the Ordway just a few months ago, Dieter Bierbrauer is downright menacing as the cruel and violent Bill Sykes. There are really too many delightful performances in the ensemble by favorites and newcomers alike to mention them all, but suffice it to say there's something wonderful going on wherever you look on the crowded stage.
|Nate Turcotte as Oliver with Bradley Greenwald as Fagin|
(photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
The "Broadway-sized" part of the show comes into play with the sets (by Rick Polenek) and costumes (by Christine A. Richardson), which are a feast for the eyes. Both have a steampunk flair, but not in an obnoxious way that takes away from the story or the setting in 19th Century London. Gears and clockwork appear on the massive set pieces that include various stairways and ladders connecting the two levels, and a bridge that lowers from the ceiling. Fagin's boys are dressed in colorful rags, and the women are adorned in bustles, flounces, and outrageous hairstyles.
Theater Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust's "Broadway Re-Imagined" series is a great way to experience what we think of as "Broadway" theater, right here on Minneapolis' Hennepin Avenue featuring our amazing local talent. I love New York City and Broadway, but in my unbiased opinion, they've got nothing on the Twin Cities in terms of the quality, breadth, and depth of theater. Minnesota can do Broadway too! Oliver! continues Thursday through Sunday at the Pantages Theatre through March 1 (if you're thinking of bringing little ones, just make sure they're old enough to handle a couple of brutal onstage deaths - spoiler alert!).
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.