WEST VALLEY CITY — It’s an unusual experience when to go into intermission thinking that you are going to write one review and leave the show ready to write another. And yet, after viewing Hale Centre Theatre’s production of Oliver! (music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart), that is exactly what happened.
As I watched Act One the words “adequate” and “satisfactory” kept running through my mind. There was nothing wrong with the show, per se. The cast was obviously enthused, several of the voices (especially Danny Inkley in the role of Mr. Bumble) were excellent, and the plight of the young workhouse boys managed to pull, albeit slightly, at my heartstrings. But there was nothing exciting, either.
Well, except the set. Kacey Udy is the resident scenic designer at the Hale Centre Theatre and obviously knows the space and all of its capabilities (and tricks), inside and out. Udy wisely uses the entire space, building out from the small stage and extending his vision of Industrial Age England into the aisles and upwards towards the audience, effectively surrounding the specators with his world—while giving the actors more space to work. The centerpiece (and masterpiece) of Udy’s work is the middle turntable, which raises and lowers, spins and evolves, presenting and removing set pieces, fog, lights and actors. It is here that Udy crafts a magical world that effortlessly transforms into the multiple and varied locations called for in the story. As the tale progressed, I found that I was most looking forward to see what the set would do next.
Then, as the lights rose on Act Two, Nancy (Jacquelyne Jones) arrived. While the character of Nancy had been introduced in Act One, and had added an energy and charm (and fantastic vocal skills) during her all too brief stage time, Jones kicked the play into a whole near gear starting with “Oom Pah Pah,” through the classic “As Long As He Needs Me,” and through the rest of the act. While Act One had survived on the charm on the ensemble of young boys—and yes, Oliver (Wally Inkley) and his crew of urchin boys are adorable—it’s was when the show landed in the hands of Jones and her adult counterparts (Josh Richardson as the menacing Bill Sykes and Barrett Ogden as Fagin) that the production finally came alive.
Part of the resurgence comes from a shift in the storytelling. The stakes are raised, the pace (and transitions) tightened, and director (and choreographer) David Tinney abandons, thankfully, some of the more stylized acting direction in favor of more realistic action. These changes work together to produce a second act that shows the audience that the heart, soul and inherent—and, frankly, necessary—grit of the original Charles Dickens’s tale had not been lost. While the blocking, choreography and fight sequences of the first act had suffered from a slightly inconsistent, and often campy, tone, the second act embraced the dark and realistic undertones of the story being told.
As we headed towards the climax of the show, my focus finally shifted away from the amazing production elements (in which the costume design by Peggy Willis and the lighting design by Benjamin Saunders are included) to the beauty, harshness and power that are so iconic in Dickens’s writing. And it was here that, finally, the story of a little orphan boy and his adventures through the low and criminal classes of Victorian England, reached its full potential. As the tale moves through and examines the life of Oliver Twist, the audience, can, as Tinney wrote in his director’s note, see beyond the darkness and find a tale that is “radiant with hope, humanity, sacrifice, triumph and redemption.”
While it may take awhile for the show to come into its own, the final outcome makes the Hale Centre Theatre’s production of Oliver! worth seeing. And the set. It’s definitely worth going to see the set.