Consider yourself a part of the theatrical family if you find yourself headed out to Silhouette Stages to see their latest musical production, Oliver! With Music, Lyrics, and Book written by Lionel Bart, the classic Dickens novel takes to the stage with melancholia in its melodies and dark humor sprinkled in for good measure. Directed by Lance Lewman with Musical Direction by Ellie Whittenberg, the musical is a classic rekindling of literary greatness in the vein of musical theatre.
Set Designer Jerry Hilyard creates a beautiful backdrop of Victorian London for this production. Working silhouettes of the city rooftops into the scenic design, Hilyard draws a clear demarcation barrier between the impoverished slums and knob hill. Adding a stone arch between the two sides of town adds a platform with scenic depth and elevation to the stage, giving the company a bit more space in which to expand their movements. Hilyard’s use of fog to add to the dreary atmosphere is a quaint touch that enhances the location of the musical.
Combining Hilyard’s gray-tinted backdrop with Lighting Designer Chris Mobley’s expertise creates the most visually impressive moment in the production at the very end of the show. With Mobley’s focused fade of the blue and yellow lights against Hilyard’s background, as Dodger and Fagin turn and ‘walk off into the streets’ they appear to become part of the portrait, like the end of an old fairytale feature where the characters return to the pages of the book. This one moment is a breathtaking visual effect that could not be achieved without their expertise.
Director Lance Lewman rounds up an enormous cast for this musical, which in places creates a solid sound for numbers like “Oom-Pah-Pah” and “Who Will Buy.” The only downside to having such an enormous number of voices is the inconsistency with which they approach the Victorian London series of accents. Some characters are able to carry a passable accent while others are not, some bring in Scottish sounds while others bring in sounds from far away and it unfortunately becomes distracting to both the audience and the performers as they stumble over their lines in trying to execute them with an accent. Not using the accents would free up this distraction and make for a cleaner production overall.
Lewman does understand how to keep people moving on the stage, particularly during the larger crowd scenes so that the stage never feels overpopulated or that people are simply standing about. He does, however, struggle to keep the overall pace of the show going at an up-tempo speed. The scenes that drag are mostly those of dialogue (without song or preceding a song) featuring Widow Corney (Ruth Hulett) and Mr. Bumble (Thom Platt). In a longer musical classic such as Oliver! it is extremely important to keep the non-musical scenes going as strongly as the musical scenes in order to keep up the momentum of the show.
For a musical that is not dance-centric, Choreographer Timoth David Copney infuses a great deal of dance routines in places that feel unnecessary. The execution of these larger numbers does not come across cleanly and is unfortunately one of the shows weaker points. That said, the opening sequence of “Food, Glorious Food,” is the most succinctly constructed ‘dance’ number in the production and does show Copney’s ability to organize the mass of youth performers into a polished display of rhythmic movement.
Four exceptional standout voices amid the ensemble are featured in “Who Will Buy?” Kit Flaherty, Megan Hull, Patrick Mason, and Carleigh Solomon, appearing as various street criers hocking their wares in this number create exceptional four-part harmonies as their voices twine together in a blossoming crescendo. Solomon, as the Rose Seller, starts the number off with a dulcet and delightful sound that amounts to pitch perfection. Mason, who provides the only male voice in the quartet, balances out the sweet soprano sounds with his mellow and inviting tenor tone.
Fagin (Michael Hulett) is a seedy, albeit harmless, old chap that corrals the urchins of the streets into his charge. Hulett makes an intriguing character choice, playing the man in an homage to an old Vaudevillian crook, a little sprinkling of comedy, a little dash of mental wariness; all culminating to this slightly off-kilter kooky old clod with a humorous disposition. Hulett patters exceptionally well through “Reviewing the Situation,” and despite not being strongly confident with the higher notes, gives an impressive rendition for “Pick a Pocket or Two.”
Ruthless, vial, and downright terrifying is Bill Sykes (Matt Scheer). Delivering a terrifying rendition of “My Name” that sends chills up the spine, Scheer is a villainous knave with a mean streak a mile wide. The cutthroat gravel of his nasty voice makes every word sound harsh, putting you on the edge of your seat as he stalks the streets of London town with ill-will fresh in the foreground of his mind.
Truly sensational and stealing large portions of the end of Act I and most of Act II is Nancy (Robyn Bloom). With the most powerful voice in the show Bloom gives a rousing performance of the salty character, making her loveable and fun while simultaneously revealing the darker layers of her tormented soul. The contrast between her boisterous “It’s a Fine Life” and “Oom-Pah-Pah” and her much more dramatic “As Long as He Needs Me” is stunning and truly showcases the dynamic nature of her performing abilities. The epic belt and hold at the end of “As Long as He Needs Me” brought me and the audience to thunderous applause; an ovation well deserved. Bloom shares a tender duet with Oliver (at this performance Samantha Bloom Yakaitis) in “I’d Do Anything.” The pair sing so sweetly back and forth at each other with Bloom retaining just a subtle hint of her cheeky ways for the number.
Yakaitis as Oliver is the sole member of the cast who has not only perfected the cockney sound in her speaking voice but carries it over to her singing voice. Giving a powerful and emotionally fulfilling rendition of “Where Is Love,” Yakaitis delivers perfection to the title role, and creates a sweet but scrappy orphan for all to adore.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Oliver! Plays through March 16, 2014 at Silhouette Stages at Slayton House Theatre in Wilde Lake Village Center— 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Columbia, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 637-5289, or purchase them online.