Arts & Culture

‘OLIVER’ AND COMPANY

Larry Baldwin, left, is Fagin, and Spencer Doyle is the title character in ‘Oliver!’
Larry Baldwin, left, is Fagin, and Spencer Doyle is the title character in ‘Oliver!’ COURTESY PHOTO

Kelrik Productions uses its recipe of seasoned adults and fresh kids to serve up a satisfying production of “Oliver!”

The Charles Dickens story of “Oliver Twist,” an orphan boy who joins a gang of pickpockets before finding his roots, is touching to begin with.

The classic tale, combined with the lively and memorable songs by Lionel Bart, makes the musical one that holds up on a large stage as a big song and dance production, or on a small stage as a more intimate show.

In large productions, the lyrics sometimes become overshadowed by colorful production numbers. In smaller ones, they seem more integral to the characters and the story.

Kelrik’s production on the small stage at Unity makes the most of an array of talent. In addition to the principal characters and a 10-member ensemble of adults, 15 kids sing and dance as a gang of pickpocket boys (played mostly by well-disguised girls). Director and choreographer Erik Austin should be pleased with the quality of the dancing and singing, as well as the consistent Cockney accents throughout. The rehearsal process must have required a lot of coaching. Stephen Tosh is musical director.

Oliver is played by Spencer Doyle, who has a strong stage presence and a sweet voice. He has perfected the “expression of melancholy” required of him. I wonder what the director asked him to think of to make him look so sad.

The nasty Mr. Bumble, who sells Oliver after he asks for more gruel, and his girlfriend/wife, the Widow Corney. are played with bombastic comic style by Lester Wilson and Debora Schwartz. Mr. Sowerberry, the mortician who buys Oliver, and his shrewish wife are played by Chris Dixson and Janine Elich. Katherine Blauvelt and Ryan Vasquez play their daughter and her boyfriend, who taunt Oliver. All of these actors go all out to create Dickensian caricatures.

Of course, the most memorable character in the story is Fagin, who turns urchins into pickpockets in return for shelter and food. Larry Baldwin is a traditional Fagin, with a wild fake beard and wig. He projects an attitude that is part greedy thief and part father figure. He has a fine voice for “Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation.”

Fagin’s star pupil, The Artful Dodger, who befriends Oliver, is smartly played by Kaesha Freyaldenhoven. She is believable as a streetwise boy and excellent as she sings “Consider Yourself” and joins in the other Fagin’s boys’ numbers.

The Artful Dodger sings a charming version of “I’d Do Anything” with the lovely Nancy, the story’s tragic heroine. Heather Malcolm creates a strong Nancy, spunky but vulnerable and worth caring about. She has a fine, strong voice — just right for the torchy “As Long As He Needs Me.”

The evil Bill Sykes, Nancy’s boyfriend and Fagin’s boss, is played by Randy Pound. Pound is seen regularly in Central Coast productions, usually in light and comic roles, but with the proper makeup and costume, he readily assumes this dark persona.

The costumes by Costume Capers are elaborate, making the ensemble members in the street scenes appear authentic to 1850s London. The ensemble also dances and sings in numbers like “Who Will Buy?” and “Oom-Pah Pah.”

“Oliver!” is a favorite of community theaters because it’s such a good opportunity for young performers. The story may be overly familiar, but fortunately, the songs are so lively and memorable that they don’t get stale. You’ll still go home singing “Consider Yourself” or “Be Back Soon.”

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