Music, Lyrics & Book by Lionel Bart
Performed by Tyler Pearse, Colm Feore, Blythe Wilson, Bruce Dow, Brian McKay, Scott Beaudin & Company
Director & Choreographer: Donna Feore
Musical director: Berthold Carrière
Stratford Festival Production
Festival Theatre
April 24 to October 29, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Please Sir, I want some more!

Stratford Festival’s Oliver! will leave you wanting more – especially after the lengthy reprise at the end of the show. Patrons head out of the theatre humming all the favourite tunes: “Food Glorious Food”, “Consider Yourself At Home”, “It’s a Fine Life”, “Be Back Soon”, and “I’d Do Anything For You”. Director/Choreographer Donna Feore does an excellent job of making sure the audience leaves happy, after what can be a depressing story.

Her husband, Stratford veteran Colm Feore commands the stage as the villain Fagin. He strikes just the right balance – nasty enough to scare small children, but we also see a glimpse of his human, caring side.

The musical, Oliver!, is Lionel Bart’s take on Charles Dickens’ story Oliver Twist. This 1840’s classic tells the tale of an 11-year-old boy named Oliver, who lives in an orphan’s workhouse, and because he asks for more gruel for lunch, is sold to an undertaker. He escapes and joins a band of pickpockets headed by Fagin. Eventually, by luck he is reunited with his wealthy grandfather, but sadly, his protector, Nancy, is murdered in the meantime.

With a wonderful clear voice and darling looks, Tyler Pearse, a 10-year-old from Mississauga in his first acting job, is perfect as little Oliver. His rendition of “Where is Love?” will bring a lump to your throat.

The audience gave long and loud applause to Blythe Wilson as Nancy, when she belted out “As Long as He Needs Me”. Brian McKay has fun with a couple of roles – the drunken, hen-pecked undertaker and the quack doctor – both suit his quirky comic style. McKay is well known as the former artistic director of Huron Country Playhouse and for various roles at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. Londoner Kyle Blair is excellent as the nasty Noah Claypole and also plays other characters. Bruce Dow as Mr. Bumble provides many laughs as he courts the Widow Corney (Mary Ellen Mahoney). Dow was excellent last year as the Baker in Into the Woods, and will be remembered as Schippel, the Plumber at the Grand Theatre.

Everyone loves to hate Brad Rudy as the murderous Bill Sikes. When he came out for his final bow, he was loudly booed by the entire audience – he smiled and waved in response, enjoying every “boo”. Certainly he portrayed the anger of the menacing character very well.

The company provided some very good dancing, particularly in “Consider Yourself”, but not quite the calibre of last year’s Hello Dolly when the waiters danced so superbly. The group’s presentation of the haunting “Who Will Buy?” was excellent.

The workhouse orphans, who doubled as Fagin’s thieves, were amazing for a very young group. Their rousing rendition of “Food, Glorious Food” got the audience’s attention immediately. The only disappointment was The Artful Dodger – he was just not old enough to be a convincing leader or clever swindler, and was unable to sustain the Cockney accent, causing some of the rhyming slang in his lines to fall flat.

Overall, the great ‘show tunes’ in this musical favourite make it a very entertaining night out, and you’re guaranteed to go home singing.

Oliver! continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until October 29. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordfestival.ca.


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