Charlie Norman, Michael Drury, & Riley McNerney in Oliver!
Photo courtesy CenterStage.
Book, Music & Lyrics by Lionel Bart
Adapted from the book, Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
Directed by John Leffert
Review by Brian Kennedy
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Brian Kennedy. All rights reserved
Who will buy a ticket to see Oliver! at Centerstage? Answer: People who want to see a decent show with moments of solid character work and plenty of adorable kids.
Oliver!, based on the classic Charles Dickens book, opened Thursday night to a 90% full crowd at the Jewish Community Center of Louisville. The Centerstage production features the title character (Charlie Norman) being moved, in the beginning, from place to place by the adults in his life, many of who see him as nothing more than manual labor or a quick way to get some cash.
These early scenes had some solid moments but at times could’ve been better. Glenna Godsey’s turn as Widow Corney was pure comedic gold. Her slightly over-the-top mannerisms and movements, such as her rump shaking while looking in a basket and her fake crying, were hilarious. Her counterpart in these scenes, Frank Goodloe III’s Mr. Bumble, had great facial expressions and acting ability but lacked personality in his vocals on, “I Will Scream.”
When Oliver is sold to an undertaker, it leads to the both the strongest and weakest moments of the first act. “That’s Your Funeral” was not memorable except being off-key at the end. However, Norman’s solo song, “Where is Love”, is heart wrenching, innocent, and painful in all the right ways. It literally left tears in some audience member’s eyes.
Oliver eventually winds up with a group of up-and-coming pickpockets. Fagin, played by Michael J. Drury, is one of their leaders, as well as the most consistently well-performed character in the musical. Drury drives the humorous, “Pick a Pocket or Two”, while also expertly navigating the conflicting emotions Fagin faces in, “Reviewing the Situation.”
The other leader, Bill Sykes (Brian Bowles), was equally intense. As soon as he took the stage, the characters on the stage and the audience knew it. As the main villain, Bowles gave Sykes an ultra-serious, menacing demeanor, eyes piercing holes through anyone that dared to get in his path. Bowles controlled that stage from the very first moment he was on. He should have been in more scenes.
Sykes’s lover, Jessica Adamson’s Nancy, also took care of the pickpocketing kids but faced the constant wrath and violence of Sykes. The pain with which she had to deal was made very clear in, “As Long as He Needs Me.” With easily the strongest vocals of the night, Adamson reaches deep and brings Nancy’s tortured soul into the open with more emotion and more depth than any other number in the musical.
As for the kids themselves, they put on a track meet, constantly running around the stage, up and down stairs, doing movements, and multiple costume changes. They kept the energy up and were simply adorable in their ensemble roles. Special credit goes to artistic director John Leffert and choreographer Maggie Patten for getting them prepared.
Special credit also goes to the orchestra, who provided a professional quality accompaniment to the musical. Combined with a high-quality 19th Century London set that Stephen Ryan-Lanham designed, it was very easy to get transported into that era once entering the theatre.
Oliver! won’t go down as the most memorable Centerstage production, but it is a decent effort with enough high quality performances to keep the audience entertained throughout.
October 22, 24, 26, 29, 31, November 2, 5 & 7, 2015 @ 7:30pm
October 25, November 1 & 8, 2015 @ 2:00pm
Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205
Brian Kennedy is a nearly life-long Louisville resident who has performed in plays since 2004. He also wrote extensively about the Louisville theatre scene for Louisville.com and Examiner.com from 2009-2015. Currently, he maintains the theatre blog LouBriantheater. When not involved in the theatre scene, he is an avid runner, participating in 5Ks throughout the state and in southern Indiana. He is also race director for the Movie Lovers 5K, which will take place in Jeffersontown in March 2016.