Jon Douglas Rake, the Managing Artistic Director and driving force behind Tacoma Musical Playhouse, has done it again. Director Rake has lifted the skirts of Tacoma and swept up most of her talented children and molded them into the theatre’s current production of “Oliver! The Musical.”
With a cast of 22 as well as 21 youngsters in the Children’s Ensemble and six in the Adult Ensemble for a total of 49 actors, singers and dancers on stage at various times or even the same time – “Oliver” has got to be one of Rake’s grandest endeavors.
Just about everyone knows the story of Oliver Twist, either through old movies on television or by actually reading Charles Dickens’s story of the hapless babe who became an orphan at birth, which unfortunately leaves the boy in the care of the Workhouse director, the Widow Corney. When the half-starved pre-pubescent boy dars to ask for “more” gruel at his evening meal, Corney bids the Beadle Mr. Bumble to take the thankless boy out to be sold. Bumble accomplishes the task by placing Oliver in the employ of the local mortician and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberrry.
After a falling out with his employers, Oliver runs away and is met under London Bridge by Jack Dawkins, a youthful pickpocket known as The Artful Dodger. The Dodger takes Oliver to Fagin, the leader of the pickpocket ring of London’s lost boys. There Oliver meets Nancy and her diabolical lover, the thief Bill Sykes.
As Oliver starts to practice his new found trade in front of a book store, he is caught and taken to jail where he is identified as the thief by Mr. Brownlow. The book seller testifies that Oliver is innocent; Brownlow takes the boy in and finds a kindred spirit in Oliver. However, Nancy sees where Oliver is taken.
Fagin demands his return – Nancy complies; Bill tries to have Oliver help him rob Brownlow’s home; Oliver refuses; Bill attacks Oliver; Nancy intercedes; Bill attacks Nancy; the police chase Bill, who duly receives his comeuppance; Fagin slips through the hole in the police net and Oliver finds his rightful home with Brownlow.
Another wonderful story and jab by the master at the inequities of the under-privileged in his 19th Century London.
Then in 1960, Lionel Bart opened his version of the tale, to which he added music and lyrics and “Oliver! The Musical” was born.
Jeffrey Stvrtecky is Musical Director who not only guides the singers but conducts the 14-member TMP orchestra perfectly to play some of the best and most memorable Musical Comedy songs ever.
Bruce Haasl gives the show a multi-purposed London Bridge for a raised acting area; it has a trap-door to allow the cast to go into Fagin’s layer below the bridge. Wagons are brought on to represent different venues, the mortician’s dwelling, different homes, the court room, etc. A stage-width full height curtain sweeps across the stage to take the audience to the Kenningston Place location where Brownlow lives.
John Chenault gives the show correct lighting. Margot Webb and Grace Stone make their usual magic with the costumes.
Rake brings “Oliver” to the TMP stage with a truly talented cast from the youngest to the eldest – age is no leveler in this production.
The 21 youngsters in the Children’s Ensemble, all of whom play orphan boys, are Delaney Ahrens, Dashari Anderson, Alexandria Bray, Harrison Devlin, Lucy Devlin, Darby Fitzgerald, Tera Frostad, Will Herbert, Mia Hyke, Abbey Kerrigan, Nadia Niva, Kyra Rosen, Emily Saletan, Amaya Sheets, Amelia Stiles, Cherish Winston-Taylor, Tavaunyai Thomas, Isabella Vigna, Abbie Wachter, Chailia Wendland, and Katia Yeager. Fitzgerald is noticeable in this gaggle of goslings, as she is right on with her actions when singing with all in the opening number “Food, Glorious Food.”
The six in the Adult Ensemble are Eugene Degodyuk, Tyler Dobies, Francesca Guecia, Jim Heinecke, Marshall Link and Michael Syverson. All add their talents equally to the show’s general mayhem.
In some of the lesser roles, Gunnar Ray is Charles Bates; Deanna Martinez is Old Sally; Heather Arneson plays Old Lady and John Miller is a comical Dr. Grimwig.
One of the most beautiful songs in the show is “Who Will Buy?” sung by Haley Kim as the Rose Seller, Corissa Deverse as the Milkmaid, Kathy Kluska as the Strawberry Seller with Addison Daniels as the Knife Grinder.
Andrew Fry is Mr. Brownlow and Lark Moore is his housekeeper Mrs. Bedwin who nicely reprises the soothing “Where is Love?”
The mortician family consists of Joe Woodland as a comically stern Mr. Sowerberry; Gwen Trussler equally comical as his wife Mrs. Sowerberry; Ivy Rice is Charlotte, their girl; and Sam Tebb is their officious hired helper Noah Claypole – Tebb also does a great job of dancing and doing gymnastic flips with the ensemble.
Helene Minassian glibly plays The Artful Dodger. Johnny Neidlinger is a terrorizing Bill Sykes. Maggie Barry is Bet, Nancy’s daughter. This young lady has a truly beautiful voice. Barry also exhibits her dancing prowess as an ensemble member.
Sam Barker plays Fagin. Perhaps to quell the original author’s anti-Semitic concept of the typical Jew of the 19th Century – as well as William Shakespeare’s (i.e. Shylock) – Rake and Barker have made the usually sloven Fagin more like a typical, English gentleman gone wrong.
Liam Loughridge, a product of Camp TMP, makes his Mainstage debut as Oliver adding his beautifully clear voice to the role. Loughridge is filled with innocence as the orphan boy; his English accent is among the best in the show. The actor turns in a laudable performance.
Brian Cox makes a memorable stage presence as the Beadle, Mr. Bumble. Cox is funny, even when he asks Oliver, “Are you afraid of me, boy?” It’s a great character and Cox does it justice.
Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson is even funnier as Widow Corney, the headmistress of the Workhouse. Ferguson shows excellent character development; her voice is terrific; her comedy is bawdy; Ferguson has the Widow pegged.
When Cox and Ferguson get together singing “Oliver” and playing around – they are unbeatable.
Nancy Herbert-Bach is Nancy, the woman who loves not wisely but too much. Bill Sykes holds her heart in his hands. He constantly abuses her and all she can do about it is to tell all in her plaintive song, “As Long As He Need Me” that she is totally his. Herbert-Bach opens the second act with “Oom-Pah-Pah” while dancing about the stage with the company in tow, proving that she is a triple threat actor – wonderful job.
“Oliver! The Musical” ” continues at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue, just east of Jackson, through October 11, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
“Consider Yourself” lucky that you have the chance to emerge yourself in the TMP production of this wonderful show – and you don’t even have to “Pick a Pocket or Two.”