Mark & Tracy Photography
The opening scene, ‘Food, Glorious Food,’ at the London workhouse gets ‘Oliver!’ off to a good start.
Staging “Oliver!” calls for a certain amount of ambition because of the challenges in Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist.”
One challenge is that the scene changes might interrupt the dramatic flow. Thanks to an adaptable set designed by Jerald Enos, Broadway By the Bay minimizes the lapses. Still, this production directed by Jeffrey Bracco can feel episodic.
Another challenge is that the show requires many children. BBB succeeds on this count because most of the youngsters are somewhat older than one might expect. Hence the opening scene, “Food, Glorious Food,” at the London workhouse gets the show off to a good start.
Oliver Twist, the orphaned title character, is played by 12-year-old Shayan Hooshmand, who does a good job, starting with his memorable opening line, “Please, sir, I want some more,” as he tries to get another helping of the gruel from the workhouse caretaker, Mr. Bumble (Robert Sholty). He also does well in his primary song, “Where Is Love?”
Later, he joins in on the show’s most successful song, “Who Will Buy?” which starts with five street vendors in haunting counterpoint and ends as a production number, well choreographed by Pauline Kanter.
Other musical aspects are more mixed. Jon Hayward’s loud sound design distorts higher notes, and some principals mistake volume for emotion. The Cockney accents can be hard to understand.
Then there’s some faulty intonation by musical director Samuel Cisneros’ orchestra and by Rich Matli as the villainous Bill Sykes.
Back on the plus side is Ryan Mardesich as The Artful Dodger, who finds the runaway Oliver on the streets and takes him to Fagin, who harbors children and teaches them how to pick pockets. Fagin is winningly played by Jef Valentine, who has fun with “Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation.”
Dickens wrote “Oliver Twist” to expose how cruelly and thoughtlessly orphans were treated in Victorian England. The musical softens some of those edges, but the idea is still there.
After Oliver has the courage to ask for more gruel, Bumble sells him to an undertaker, but Oliver runs away. That’s when The Artful Dodger finds him. Oliver has more adventures after that, and the story ends on both unhappy and happy notes — unhappy for Nancy (Amie Shapiro), Bill’s girlfriend, and happy for Oliver, who winds up with his grandfather, Mr. Brownlow (Ron Dritz).
This production of “Oliver!” represents a milestone because it’s the first in BBB’s long history to use local designers. Besides the set by Enos, the period costumes are by production manager Margaret Toomey. BBB has rented sets and costumes in the past.
Despite its shortcomings, opening night had enough pluses that it was enthusiastically received. It also served as a good introduction for those who have never seen this musical or its 1968 film.
“Oliver!” will continue at the Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City, through July 21. For tickets and information call 579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.