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!"