AMERICAN FORK — Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, directed by Margo Watson, is an entertaining musical the whole family will love.
The play starts off with the energetic song “Food Glorious Food,” performed by Ryan Clark, as Oliver, and the workhouse children. Clark was a pleasure to watch and captured my heart as the sad little orphan boy whose mischievous personality had him bouncing from home to home and wondering “Where Is Love?” Despite his young age (only 8-years-old) Clark performed with maturity and poise. During the opening scene he experienced microphone problems but carried on as if nothing had happened until it could get fixed. The other children were just as amusing to watch. Dressed by costumer Marie Crawford in rags and patches, each child brought an endless amount of energy to the play and a personality to their character that made me feel like I was truly witnessing the shenanigans of childhood.
After being sold from the workhouse and running away from a mortician, Oliver’s search to find a home looks as if it might have finally come to an end as he joins Fagin (played by Brett Lyman) and his gang. Lyman was a highlight of the play. His cockney accent was easily understood due to his careful enunciation, and his quirky actions and kind ways made him instantly loveable. In “Consider Yourself” and “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” he truly made me feel like I was a “part of the family” as he welcomed Oliver into his care and taught him the ins and outs of picking pockets. Lyman brought just the right amount of humor to the play without distracting from Oliver and his journey to finding a home.
Nancy (played by Kylee Ogzewalla) is also trying to find love and a place where she belongs with Bill Sikes. Ogzewalla’s powerful voice and deep emotion in “As Long as He Needs Me” helped portray the longing Nancy feels, despite her insistence that “It’s a Fine Life.” Her bright dress, big expressions, and sassy personality bring a spark of color into a dreary time in history filled with poverty, cruelty, and corruption.
Mason Johnson, as Dodger, also performed with a maturity above his age. As a mentor to Oliver, Dodger takes him into the city to start earning his keep. Unfortunately, Oliver is caught by the police and taken into the care of the man whose pocket he tries to pick. Afraid that Oliver will snitch and ruin the life the gang enjoys, Bill Sikes (played by Bryan Harper) insists that he is found, no matter the cost. Harper is excellent at portraying the antagonist of the classic Charles Dickens story. His stealthy movements and slicked back hair add just the right touch to make him the character I loved to hate.
In addition to the excellent acting and directing, I was very impressed with the work from music director Linda Hunt and choreographer Marilyn Montgomery. The harmonies in “Who Will Buy?” were both beautiful and haunting, adding a depth to this melancholy song. However, a few of the songs were played so loudly that it was hard to hear soloists, particularly in “Oliver” and “That’s Your Funeral.” The accents could also be hard to understand at times; a lack of enunciation jumbling the words together. Overall, though, the songs were expertly performed and had me singing them well after the play was over. Likewise, the high energy dancing in “Food Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” and “Oom-Pah-Pah” had me wanting to jump up and join in. The actions were big and the energy high — a perfect combination to capture the audience’s attention.
Another eye catching element to the play was the set, designed by John Veatch. The main piece was a bridge that remained in place throughout the performance – a centerpiece around which the rest of the play revolved. The director’s note explains the bridge to be symbolic of the journey we all take in life and the bridges that connect us from who we are now and who we can become.
Perhaps the most endearing parts of the whole play for me were the personal elements that the actors themselves brought to the performance. Several of the children and one of the adults were participating in their first play ever. Some were life-long lovers of the stage, and some only began acting in their adulthood. And others still were coming back to the stage after years of working daytime jobs and caring for families. But whatever their circumstances, all were there for the same reason: they love the theatre, and it showed. It showed in the expression on their faces and the energy in their movements. It could be heard in the power of their songs and the timbre of their voices. It could be felt in the way the cast acted like one big family (in which case many were, another awesome element to the play: families bonding together over the theatre).
So, the Timpanogos Community Theater production of Oliver! is a play put on by families for families. I would not recommend this play for very young children as there are two deaths in the play, including one from a beating. But otherwise, grab your family and head over to the Valentine Theater for a fun evening in Victorian London.