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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 13 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 50
Consider yourself at home - Oliver! comes to the 5th Avenue
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Consider yourself at home - Oliver! comes to the 5th Avenue

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

OLIVER! THE MUSICAL
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
NOVEMBER 29-
DECEMBER 31


The 5th Avenue Theatre excels when it comes to delivering family-friendly, classic musicals of the past. This tradition is continued with their holiday presentation of the musical, Oliver! The show is a classic for several reasons: It's a crowd pleaser; there are wonderful songs that everyone is bound to recognize, and the musical is presented well with local casting, guaranteeing a fun time.

Based on the beloved classic Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, the story follows Oliver, an orphan boy in London, 1837. Oliver is one of many unfortunates living at a desolate orphanage/workhouse run by the brutish Beadle Bumble. When the 10-year-old Oliver dares to ask for more gruel to eat, he is abused and sold to an undertaker and his wife. After running away, Oliver meets 'The Artful Dodger,' a street-savvy urchin. Dodger takes him back to his lair where he meets Fagin, the man training a group of children to become pickpockets and street thieves. Oliver is sent on his first 'job' and is caught pickpocketing a gentleman. He is released under custody to Mr. Brownlow, who recognizes Oliver to be his 'runaway' daughter's son. Afraid that Oliver will report the gang to the police, the gang of thieves plans on stealing Oliver back to keep him quiet.

At least half of the cast is made up of children. It's always difficult to review a show with children. If you treat them like adults, a reviewer gets called an 'S.O.B.' If you review them like a child, then the reviewer is usually guilty of coddling and not being of much help to anyone. With this in mind, it's accurate to say that the kids do a good job in the show without stealing focus or the scenes from any of the adult performers.

Two alternating children, Mark Jeffrey James Weber, and Jack Fleishmann - who appeared on the night this reviewer saw the show - play the role of Oliver. Fleishmann fits the role of the cherubic youth and his voice is definitely a clear soprano. He is able to hit the notes and does so. The other major role for a young adult is The Artful Dodger, played by Grayson J. Smith. This is a boy to watch as his musical theater career launches. He has a full stage presence and his acting chops are well cut. His voice is in good shape and he is able to hold his own on such a large stage with a huge company.

The major acting job here is the role of Fagin, played by David Pichette. Mr. Pichette embodies the role of the gang leader of thieves, presenting him as a person instead of a clichéd character. Pichette gives Fagin a definitive personality, bringing to life the colorful character that Dickens created. The audience knows the evil this man does, but embraces him due to the wonderful portrayal of Mr. Pichette's work.

Merideth Kaye Clark plays the role of Nancy, the street-girl with the heart of gold. Ms. Clark is making her 5th Avenue debut in this role and we can only hope to see a lot more of her! Her voice is wonderfully strong as she becomes Nancy, allowing the audience to see the inner conflict of her street-toughness and dedication to her lover, the villain Bill Sikes, and the soft-heartedness in wanting to do the right thing for Oliver. The audience both rejoices with her in the uplifting bawdiness of 'Oom-Pah-Pah,' and empathizes with her lamenting in the haunting song, 'As Long As He Needs Me.'

Seattle audience members are bound to recognize many of their favorite talents in this large ensemble. Carol Swarbrick brings a wonderful comedy to the undertaker's wife of Mrs. Sowerberry. The song 'Who Will Buy' is a large stage number allowing the voices of the cast members to solo and mesh in this incredibly harmonious song. Cayman Ilika (as the Milkmaid) and Billie Wildrick (as the Strawberry Seller) have solos that perfectly launch this beauteous number.

Oliver! is a great family show for the holidays. It appeals to kids of all ages, toning down the darker parts of Dickens' original tale into something that parents will not have to explain to their children. It's a fun show with good performances and excellent singing. There's a reason this show is considered a classic, and the 5th Avenue Theatre does an excellent job of presenting those reasons in full.

The musical Oliver! has book, music and lyrics written by Lionel Bart, and first opened on Broadway on January 6, 1963. The cast starred Georgia Brown as Nancy, and Barry Humphries (aka 'Dame Edna') as the undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won three, including Best Composer and Lyricist. The show enjoyed a return engagement the following year, and a revival in 1984 starring Ron Moody as Fagin (earning the show its only Tony nomination that year) and Patti LuPone as Nancy.

The stage production made its leap to the silver screen in 1968 with a stellar cast including Ron Moody as Fagin, Shani Wallis as Nancy, Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes, and Jack Wild (H.R. Pufnstuf) as the Artful Dodger. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards (including Ron Moody for Best Actor) and won six, including Best Picture. It would be the last musical film to win the Best Picture award until Chicago in 2002, and it was the last G-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture until Ang Lee's 2012's Life of Pi.

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