Arts & Culture

Stage: DICKENS WITH A TWIST

Fagin contemplates his fate as he sings, "Reviewing the Situation."
Fagin contemplates his fate as he sings, "Reviewing the Situation."

The Pioneer Players’ production of “Oliver” at the Templeton Performing Arts Center at Templeton High brings all of the story’s Dickensian characters to life with a handsome set, a live orchestra and strong voices.

The tale of a lonely orphan boy who gets mixed up with a band of young pickpockets in London in 1850 is based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” It’s a good story to begin with, but with catchy and memorable songs and bigger than life personalities, Lionel Bart transformed it into a classic musical. Thom Jason Waldman directs this production.

The songs energize the story, from the workhouse lament, “Food, Glorious Food” to “Consider Yourself” and “Be Back Soon,” the infectious tunes sung by the young pickpockets, to the mournful love ballad, “As Long as He Needs Me.”

Nearly every scene has a song, and the cast’s good voices are accompanied by a fine on-stage six piece orchestra directed by Stephen Tosh. A large, creatively costumed ensemble includes performers of all ages, from adorable preschoolers to senior citizens, and they enjoy some rousing ensemble numbers. Geneva Milbourne is costumer and Susan Figueroa is choreographer.

Oliver is played by sixth grader Andrew Magie. He is dear as he puts on the required “melancholy face,” and sings “Where Is Love?” in a sweet soprano, and he’s sympathetic as he’s buffeted about by an assortment of people of all kinds.

Fagin, who turns urchins into pickpockets in return for shelter and food, is played to the hilt by Tyler Lopez. He’s delightful as he creates a likable bad guy—both teacher and father figure — with great body language, facial expressions, and a fine voice. His song, “Reviewing the Situation,” is a high point of the show.

The Artful Dodger, the boy who befriends Oliver and takes him to Fagin’s den of thieves, is another standout. He’s played by Tabatha S. Skanes, who is not only a woman, but an adult, making her acting accomplishment all the more interesting as she looks and sings like a savvy pre-teen boy. Like the rest of the cast, she has a believable accent that’s consistent in the songs as well as when speaking.

Robin Connick plays Nancy, girlfriend of the evil Bill Sykes. She has a strong presence and a lovely voice. As Sykes, Anthony Yanofchick has a brief but powerful turn as the villain.

The other people who make life difficult for Oliver are played as though they are inept rather than truly mean. Theron Webb is a rather bumbling Mr. Bumble, who sells Oliver to the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry (Donn Clarius), who is dominated by his shrewish wife, played comically by Jill Turnbow. Saundra Woods is good as Widow Corney, who makes Mr. Bumble’s own life difficult.

The set is functional, going from orphanage to funeral parlor to London Bridge with relatively subtle segues. Some special effects include images projected on a semi-transparent scrim, with illuminated live action behind it to suggest both the inside and outside of buildings. Chris Skanes is set designer.

The orchestra, on stage, plays throughout, not just during the songs, but as a background score. The singers’ voices are miked, but the music sometimes obscures the softer voices.

This is a lively, family-friendly show, with tunes that will set you humming for days.

Performances are set for Friday, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 30, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 31, at 2 p.m. Call 239-1638 for ticket information.

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