Review by Lori Schneider
FORESTBUGH, NY (July 15, 2015) – An orphaned boy, taken from the Workhouse where he was raised and sold to an Undertaker runs away and falls in with a band of young thieves. He finds himself rescued by a wealthy gentleman who’s had his pocket picked. Whisked away once more for fear he’ll point a finger and expose the bad’uns, will he ever find the love and acceptance he seeks? Lionel Bart’s musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, Oliver Twist has been winning hearts since it opened in London’s West End in 1960. “Crossing the pond” to Broadway in 1963 and being made into a film version in 1968, Oliver! has been charming audiences in revivals for over five decades. With a magnificent score and memorable characters, this timeless tale follows the orphan who has the audacity to ask for ‘more’ out of life than his humble beginnings might offer. Forestburgh Playhouse’s production of Oliver! which opened Tuesday is warm and wonderful and leaves audience members saying, “Please, Sir…I want some more?”
What an ambitious challenge to efficiently move over fifty actors/singers/dancers – half of them, children, on the relatively small stage that is Forestburgh – but between the talents of scenic designer German Cardenas-Alaminos, Choreographer, Andrew Chartier and Director, Trent Blanton, the large Company rises to the occasion and makes it look easy. Cardenas-Alaminos’ set is beautiful – a silhouette of the London skyline firmly sets the place and the individual settings are effected with simple changes, done seamlessly. Blanton utilizes several creative “slow motion” moments that capture the movement of chases and leaps and really focuses the audience’s attention. The staging of scenes and transitions between them make the most of the space and creates the feel of travelling through London. Particularly effective is Choreographer, Chartier’s synchronized movements of the Workhouse boys during “Food, Glorious Food,” the small groups of dancers trading off during “Consider Yourself” and the clever simulation of motion in the ‘carriage’ during “I’d Do Anything.”
In the title role, Jeremy Michael Lanuti is a gem – with the voice, face and acting chops for the perfect Oliver. His “Where Is Love” is forlorn and sincere and he handles himself onstage alongside veteran actors with a comfort level that belies his young age. Trista Moldovan is a powerful actress and her Nancy mixes strength with vulnerability in just the right measure. Her voice is expressive and rich, conveying volumes with a gripping “As Long As He Needs Me.” Jonathan Brody’s Fagin is rather a charismatic villain, delighting in teaching Oliver the ropes with “Pick A Pocket or Two” and “Be Back Soon.” Brody really shines in “Reviewing the Situation” with terrific characterization and marvelous “Faganisms.”
The more villainous Bill Sykes is fleshed out in drunken, threatening fashion by Michael Yeshion who, with an evil glint in his eye all but assaults the audience along with the crowd at the Three Cripples Pub in “My Name.” The chemistry between Sykes and Nancy is fraught with palpable danger and electricity and Moldovan holds her own against the intimidating Yeshion. From the moment they take the stage, Widow Corney (Liane Zielinski) and Mr. Bumble (Jefferson Behan) pull all eyes toward them – the scenes they share are priceless – particularly, the lead-in and song, “I Shall Scream” – both have strong voices that add immeasurably to their characters. Other cast standouts include Steve Davis as the kindly, wealthy gentleman, Mr. Brownlow and Ellen Pavloff as the literally nit-picking Undertaker’s wife, Mrs. Sowerberry. I missed the cut song, “That’s Your Funeral” – it’s an adorable number – and wish it hadn’t been sacrificed for the few minutes of stage time removing it saved. There was also a very nice interplay between Tommy Betz and Marina Laurendi as Noah Claypole and Charlotte who share some bawdiness at the Undertakers’ parlor to which Oliver is “apprenticed.”
Musical Director, Henry Lewers has done an admirable job with the large cast, bringing out the best in each singer, from the precision of the twenty six delightful local youngsters who make up the Workhouse Boys and Fagin’s Gang to the lovely harmonies of the Street Criers in “Who Will Buy.” Lighting Design by Michael O’Connor adds gorgeous dimension to the progression of the plot, setting mood, feel and time. Costume Designer Genevieve V. Beller has done a worthy job setting place and time and the delineating the classes – her choices include a couple of rather unconventional ones – for Nancy, who looked (to me) more like she belonged on the American Prairie rather than the Underbelly of Dickens’ London, and for Fagin (not the look one is “used to seeing,” but it worked!) Kudos to Assistant Director and Dialect Coach, Rebecca Simon – everyone’s accents were spot on!
I’d Do Anything – but if I were you, I wouldn’t miss this ‘glorious’ production of Oliver! – running through Sunday, July 26th at the Forestburgh Playhouse – For ticket information, phone (845) 794-1194 or visit http://www.fbplayhouse.org