Written on June 2nd, 2009


Joel Cox as Oliver and Cameron MacDuffee as Fagin.

Joel Cox as Oliver and Cameron MacDuffee as Fagin.

Book, Music & Lyrics by Lionel Bart
Directed by Ron Ulrich
Musical direction by Michael Barber
Choreographed by Jim White
Drayton Entertainment Production
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
June 2 to 20, 2009
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Hungry Orphan’s Story is Heart-warming

Huron Country Playhouse is kicking off its 2009 season with an old favourite – Oliver!, Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical based on Charles Dickens’ 1840 classic tale of Oliver Twist. The show proved very popular with the opening night audience, particularly the familiar songs: “Food, Glorious Food”, “Consider Yourself”, “I’d Do Anything”, and “As Long As He Needs Me.”

Oliver Twist is the little workhouse orphan who escapes a cruel existence to be recruited by The Artful Dodger to train as a pickpocket for Fagin. There’s a happy ending when, by coincidence, he ends up with his Grandfather. But along the way he is exposed to the volatile low-life of London in the 1800s.

Joel Cox is endearing as young Oliver in his first theatre performance, and he handles the role very well. With his shaggy hair and clear voice, his performance is touching. Unfortunately, because of his small stature, he is sometimes difficult to see on stage, as audience members stretch their necks to follow his movement.

Gail Hakala as the Widow Corney and Sheldon Bergstrom as Mr. Bumble provide some humour as Mr. Bumble tries to seduce the widow and she sings “I Shall Scream”. Both have rich, full voices along with good comedic timing. Douglas Chamberlain also demonstrates his skills in comedy in two roles, as the bumbling undertaker and the quack doctor.

Cameron MacDuffee is good as the evil Fagin, and shows a touch of warmth at the same time. Kyle Dadd is truly frightening as the malevolent Bill Sykes, and was gently “booed” by the audience during his curtain call. Carly Street as Nancy is the crowd-pleaser with her rendition of “As Long As He Needs Me”. Her powerful belting voice is also featured in “Oom Pah Pah” and “It’s a Fine Life”. Street does a good job of delivering Nancy’s lines – which can be difficult in the Cockney rhyming slang. Anthony MacPherson plays a lively Artful Dodger.

The orphans and Fagin’s thieves are performed by 14 local children, who are well rehearsed and do excellent presentations of “Food, Glorious Food” and “Be Back Soon.”

The best musical number in the production is “Who Will Buy” with the company blending their voices in beautiful harmony. This stands out in contrast to many of the songs that are delivered in loud belting voices.

At times, the choreography seems rushed, actually moving faster than the music. In “Consider Yourself”, the carousel interludes are ignored and the dance doesn’t seem to fit the music or lyrics.

With the cast of children on stage, you may want to take the kids and grandkids to see Oliver!. But prepare them first, with a little discussion. Bill Syke’s abuse of Nancy is shocking, as is her murder. There are also some slightly naughty scenes when Mr. Bumble courts the Widow Corney, as well as the funny flirtation between Noah Claypole (Ari Weinberg) and Charlotte Sowerberry (Sarah Slywchuk).

Oliver! continues with eight shows a week until June 20 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000, Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463, or visit www.draytonentertainment.com

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