SALEM — Because UTBA reviews over 200 shows per year, we often notice when a play is getting more productions than usual. Last year, we reviewed five productions of The Sound of Music, and between August 2021 and August 2022, I reviewed five productions of As You Like It. Theatre companies are not colluding to mount the same production; it is just natural that with so many theatre companies in Utah, a few of them are bound to do the same play at roughly the same time. This year, Oliver! is that play. Right now there are three productions of this classic musical playing in Utah. The first two were at Hale Center Theater Orem and Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre in Logan. The final production opened at Salem Community Theater in Utah County on Friday (July 21). Although not as polished as the other two productions, SCT has a production that deserves a larger audience.

Show closes July 29, 2023.

Oliver! (with its book, music, and lyrics written by Lionel Bart) is the stage musical adaptation of the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. It follows the story of the orphaned title character, who lives in the a Victorian-era workhouse. After he (famously) asks for more food, he is sold to an undertaker. Oliver then runs away to London and immediately falls into a pickpocket gang, led by the lifelong criminal Fagin.

Owen Laidlaw stars as Oliver. Laidlaw is cute, and he gives a fine performance of the character’s most notable song, “Where Is Love?”. He is also confident in executing his blocking and reciting his lines in all of his scenes. Behind his performance is a great deal of hard work that has paid off well. Another child actor that excels is Jackson Peterson as The Artful Dodger. Peterson is younger than most actors who are cast in the role, but he still played it well. He was a charismatic leader for “Consider Yourself,” and his attachment to his top hat was a fun character quirk.

Lyle Mortimer as Fagin.

Among the adult actors, Lyle Mortimer was a standout as Fagin. Lyle Mortimer’s gives the character a paternal aspect by making Fagin seem to genuinely care about what the children in his pickpocket gang. Additionally, his performance of “Reviewing the Situation” bared Fagin’s soul as he debated his future (though I wish the song had been staged less repetitively). Lucy Roberts was notable in the role of Nancy because of her multifaceted performance. She gave Nancy an approachable ease when bringing food to the pickpockets, but in the second act there was a pleasing transition from receiving physical abuse to a determined woman singing “As Long As He Needs Me” with an iron will. It made Nancy’s decision to intervene on Oliver’s behalf understandable.

I should note that “As Long As He Needs Me” is troublesome for some audience members in the 21st century, because it is about a woman staying in a physically abusive relationship in order to meet the man’s needs. The song is redeemed with a strong performance and by showing the negative consequences of staying with an abuser as a cautionary tale. Both redeeming factors apply to this production of Oliver! at Salem Community Theater.

Standing on table: Lucy Roberts as Nancy.

Bryce Mortimer and Carrie Alba were a delightful pair as Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney, respectively. In addition to the excellent diction they had during their songs, they had excellent comedic chemistry that enhanced their comedic subplot. Finally, Marc Owens was a suitable villain in the role of Bill Sikes. In addition to being at least half a head taller than all the other cast members, his raspy voice and brooding mannerisms made him a menacing figure.

I had an intense interaction with Owens: as he stalked down the aisle singing “My Name,” he tried to grab my critic’s notebook. I held onto it tightly because I use it to write down notes that I use to write my reviews and did not want to lose it. (I worried that he might throw it across the theater or take it backstage.) Our struggle lasted just a few seconds, and Owens continued his performance uninterrupted. Owens later told me that he had been given the stage direction to take something from an audience member during the song and to later give it back. It was the sort of experience that can only happen in live theatre, and there were no hard feelings. Nevertheless, with this being my second awkward critic-actor interaction, perhaps I should be more careful about sitting in an aisle seat.

Marc Owens as Bill Sikes.

I appreciated Julie Suazo‘s direction, especially the funeral home scenes, which often get bogged down in other productions of Oliver!. For these scenes, Suazo’s staging is clear and emphasizes the mix of human drama (as Oliver is sold as an apprentice) and dark comedy. Also, Suazo effectively layers her cast in the group scenes so that the ensemble forms of living backdrop for the principal characters. She also staged the challenging bridge scene well, making the quick sequence of events understandable and climactic. I also applaud Suazo’s ability to handle a stage full of children, some who seem as young as 5 years old. I can barely handle my four young children at home, and so Suazo’s ability to mange of dozens of children is impressive. Goldie Harrison’s choreography could accommodate a wide variety of skill levels seen in the cast, from children in their first play to a talented featured dancer (Edward Lambert). “Consider Yourself” was probably the most energetic number, but “Oom-Pah-Pah” and “I’d Do Anything” certainly had some charm.

As with most community theater productions, Oliver! has some moments that remind its audience that it is an amateur production. For example, the microphones were sometime temperamental, and the diction in some group songs was inadequate. And why was there so much green light in the scenes in Fagin’s lair? Oh, well . . . I could easily forgive these shortcomings. The only thing I truly disliked about this production of Oliver! was that there were more people on stage than in the audience. Salem Community Theater has an enjoyable show that deserves more support and attendance. While there are two other productions of Oliver! playing right now, I hope that Salem’s Oliver! does not get overlooked by Utah theatre audiences.

The Salem Community Theater production of Oliver! plays nightly (except Sundays and Mondays) at 7 PM through July 29, with an extra performance at 4 PM on July 24, at Salem Hills High School (150 North Skyhawk Boulevard, Salem). Tickets are $8-12. For more information, visit