Selling the Oom Pah Pah


At PCPA’s Marian Theatre, Saturday, April

Reviewed by D. J. Palladino

What does a definitive Oliver! production look like?
Should Lionel Bart’s classic be more stylized or more realistic
like the great Carol Reed film from 1968, when the play was fresh
from Broadway? This production, directed by Dianna Shuster, begins
with a heap of set elements in the middle of the stage, like 1990s
nouvelle cuisine with the steak piled up on the mashed potatoes and
asparagus spears pointing to the sky. Then, as it overtures, the
cast comes buzzing on the stage and, in a precisely choreographed
dance, sets up screens and tables and benches, upon which the great
orphans’ ensemble will soon be singing the (almost campy now)
anthem “Food, Glorious Food.” It’s a self-conscious welcoming, and,
without being too negative about anything in this superb
production, I would say it throws you into the world of artifice.
An Oliver! is definitive when it makes you hum the great
tunes and sets you up against the way the world forgets to protect
the innocent.

There’s much to appreciate in this great PCPA spectacle. The key
performers shone, and each had at least one toothsome solo. Nancy,
played with particular sauce by Bryn Elizan Harris, got the lion’s
share of showstoppers, and “As Long as He Needs Me,” made up in
real lyrical power whatever it lacked in believability. The highest
peak achieved in this great show was surprising — Andrew Philpot as
Mr. Bumble singing “Boy for Sale” with a tone that managed a depth
of sadness and damning irony, too. The strongest sell of the play,
however, was its orchestrated crowd scenes. Here, the art of the
show — clearly the director’s focus — including dance, acting, and
dulcet musicality was most pointed. The best example of that was
the “Who Will Buy” sequence, including Katie Worley and the great
Santa Barbara High grad, Siobhan Doherty. All the strands were
lucid and they added up to a stirring tapestry.

Much of the weaving comes from choreographer Michael Jenkinson,
veering into the Swiss watch realm with high steps and throws and
jumps. But maybe the play needed to be wound a bit scarier. Edward
Hightower’s Bill Sykes seemed merely blustery until the murder
scene. Later, when Fagin — brilliantly played by David
Studwell — shrugs and walks off with an already corrupted child,
it’s a moment that admits considerable darkness into the mix. But
it comes late, and by that time we’re more inclined by the music to
consider ourselves at home.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.