From left: J Mendl as Artful Dodger, Doug LoPachin as Fagin and Logan Macaulay as Oliver

Review: Oliver! | Casa Manana | Casa Manana Theatre

Here's the Love

Casa Mañana Children's Theatre turns in a solid Oliver!

published Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The food may be scarce but the entertainment is plentiful in Casa Mañana's production of Oliver!, Lionel Bart's musical adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist.

Following the journey of a young orphan boy Oliver (Logan Macaulay) who is brave enough to ask for extra portions of gruel at the workhouse he resides at. After his indiscretion, Oliver is sold by the house master, Mr. Bumble (Paul Grant), to Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (Christopher J. Deaton and Debbie Brown), the local undertakers.

Oliver escapes the situation and finds himself on the streets until he is swept up by a young man affectionately known as the Artful Dodger (J Mendl) and is taken in to a small network of pickpockets watched over by the elderly Mr. Fagin (Doug Lopachin).

Naturally, a happy ending is in the cards, but not before some decidedly dark moments.

The adult cast leads the way for the show. Several adult actors play multiple roles, and do it with aplomb. Particularly, Deaton as both Mr. Sowerberry and the villain Bill Sykes is impressive in thoroughly distinguishing the characters.

Mendl's Artful Dodger is playful and provides a nice filter between the child and adult roles, both in his portrayal of the older character and in his role as foreman in Fagin's pickpocket ring. The classic crook with a heart of gold, Mendl brings light to what would be an utterly dark situation in any other context.

To that end, Lopachin embraces the more comic leanings that Fagin gained in the original musical adaptation. More villainous in Dickens' book, Fagin is an affable victim of the hand he's been dealt in the stage production, kind hearted yet fiercely motivated by the threat of consequence if he doesn't satisfy Sykes' demands.

The children are all at their level best showing earnest commitment to their roles and proving once again that Casa Mañana is an excellent theater for youth audiences. What might normally be a weak point in most shows, these kids shine.

Bob Lavallee's scenic design is like a Swiss Army knife, constantly unfolding and hiding set pieces to create an efficient, versatile whole. It's quite clever and effective.

Another solid backstage contribution comes in Tammy Spencer's costume design. Everything looks authentic, nothing is shoddy, and the color palette isn't too dialed in to one place, as might happen with stories taking place in Victorian England. Fagin's hideaway makes for particularly fun and vibrant scenes between the plethora of handkerchiefs and general gypsy like manner of dress combined with Lavallee's set and Samuel Rushen's warm lighting.

And bringing the whole things together is director David Overton, who does an admirable job in managing all the different moving parts, a cast heavy on young children and adults playing multiple roles.

The one editorial note comes in the appropriateness for children. Naturally, it's up to parents what they're willing to let their child see, but Oliver! does contain some violent scenes and a death. And in general, some of the themes may simply be over small children's heads. Think less than 7, as many children checked out very early and ended up being a distraction as their interest waned.

In the end though, Casa has once again produced a solid piece of children's theater and is sure to leave the audience clamoring with reverberations of, "Please sir, may we have some more!" Thanks For Reading


K Smith writes:
Thursday, October 20 at 10:43AM

I am actually shocked by this review, and I'm curious if the author has ever seen the original, uncut production. This production of Oliver took the original, disemboweled it, then sloppily stiched a few of the pieces together. It is a quintessenstial classic that was mangled by careles rewrites, a lead who could barely carry a tune, the beloved character of the artful dodger performed with painfully, PAINFULLY over the top character choices, inconsistent accents, and once again- careless rewrites that were positively absurd (i.e. Fagin shooting Bill Sykes?????) The only glimmer of hope found in this production were the actresses who played Nancy and Bet and Doug Lopachin's Fagin, and the set/costume. Watching an audience of young children be introduced to this enchanting musical through this sloppy production was horrifying. I expected the headline to read, "Please sir, anything but more". Disappointed. It's a classic, it's based on a Dickens novel, and I was hoping at the very least, for a faithful adaptation.

K Smith writes:
Thursday, October 20 at 10:59AM

Pardon my previous rant, I have just been rather shocked as this is the second review I have read for this production prasing the performance. I should note, Oliver! is a particular favorite of mine, and as I was expected a full performance, the abbreviated production caught me somewhat offguard. The arrangment was confusing, and I really believe that no child in that theatre could follow the story the way it was cut and rearranged. It was not faithful to the original in many, many ways. I have seen Casa put out some wonderful productions, and I guess my wish was that Oliver! could have been given the same treatment as their Broadway series. I have been dissapointed with the past few bigger shows that have been presented as children's theatre, including this years earlier production of The Wizard of Oz, which was also cut, but nothing compared to the dissaray of Oliver! I saw glimmers of real talent from Fagin, Nancy, and Bet. I was so very thankful that the actress who played Bet also played a lead soloist in "Who will Buy". She has a beautiful singing voice and gave a beautiful performance. Nancy and Fagin, I saw some flickers of great things but felt if they just pushed a bit more, and had been given a script that wasn't so disorganized, could have turned out sensational performances. I think this production is an examples of how we shoudl not introduce children to theatre. We shouldn't cut things down and rewrite the classics. This only fuels and caters to dwindling attention spans. Give them a production that is teeming with life and excitement that is faithful to the original and they will love it.

Rebecca Kubba writes:
Thursday, October 20 at 4:43PM

Sorry, but I kinda agree with K Smith...It sounds like you watched the play for 30 minutes and left. What about the cut scenes, what about Nancy & Bet (who are both great), and you write "a death" try a couple deaths and a gun shot that made my 2 girls start crying. There are many wonderful things about the show and definitely things that could have been better, I guess I'm just expecting a more thorough review.

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Casa Mañana Children's Theatre turns in a solid Oliver!
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