by Clark Groome
I’d love to report that the Quintessence Theatre Group’s “Oliver!,” Lionel Bart’s magnificent musical take on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” is getting a smashing production at Mt. Airy’s Sedgwick Theater. The truth is that director Alex Burns’ mounting (running through Dec. 23) is a mixed bag. Some of the scenes and performances are first rate; others not so much.
Burns has set the piece on a stage flanked on both sides by tables at which some of the audience sits. Those tables are also used by the cast. While that approach works during some of the production numbers, it’s not so successful at others.
I’m guessing that Burns wanted to bring the audience into the London about which Dickens had written. It only works occasionally.
The story of the orphan who runs away to London and becomes a part of a group of young pickpockets under the control of the not-as-mean-as-he-seems Fagin is, by its very nature, emotionally involving.
As Oliver’s life progresses and unravels, there are many fine moments. The production numbers — “Consider Yourself,” “Oom-Pah-Pah” and “Be Back Soon,” most notably — are all lively, and having the cast dancing on the tables adds to the fun.
During some of the other scenes, smaller and more intimate in nature, having the cast spread all over the theater draws focus from what should have our complete attention.
Despite some shortcomings, the Quintessence “Oliver!” generally captures the varied aspects of Dickens’ story. It definitely ends on the right note of tears and relief about Oliver’s fate.
The cast is basically sound. On opening night Oliver was in the capable hands of Lyam David Kilker (who shares the role with Benjamin Snyder).
Wallace Acton’s complex Fagin, Hanna Gaffney’s loyal Nancy, Steven Wright’s positive Mr. Brownlow, Jacob Entenman’s delightful Artful Dodger and Marcia Saunders’ loving and gentle Mrs. Bedwin were all really impressive. Fagin’s “Reviewing the Situation” and Nancy’s “As Long as He Needs Me” were the production’s highlights.
The supporting company was fine. All the actors save those playing Fagin, Dodger and Oliver double up. The Children’s Ensemble is made up of very enthusiastic and generally talented performers.
Brock Vickers’ terrifying Bill Sykes was mean enough but fell short as a singer.
The production features Doug Greene’s minimal set, Jojo Glodek’s simple lighting, Christina Bullard’s costumes and Kaki Burns’ terrific choreography.
Musical director Tom Fosnocht led the fine four-piece ensemble.
“Oliver!” is important theater, and that remains true in spite of this production’s occasional wrongheadedness.
For tickets, call 215-987-4450 or visit qtgrep.org