Review: ‘Oliver!’ at the Sterling Playmakers

The Sterling Playmakers have put their unique twist on the musical Oliver!, based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Oliver! has music, lyrics, and a book by Lionel Bart.

Ella Levri (Oliver!) and Mike Baker (Fagin). Photo courtesy of Sterling Playmakers.

Ella Levri (Oliver!) and Mike Baker (Fagin). Photo courtesy of Sterling Playmakers.

Co-Directors Ashley Kinney and Kim VanArtsdalen worked with Producer Kimberly Fry to tell a story about the disparity of classes while maintaining an undertone of inclusion due to their artistic choices such as including girls in Fagin’s gang and having the townspeople join in for an unexpected number. While the show has some dark moments, children of all ages in the audience sat quietly entertained for the full show (Over two and a half hours, with an intermission). This may be due to the amusing cockney accent that was delivered with perfection by the full cast. Often one of the most difficult tasks for this show, this feat was achieved because of the accent and dialect coaches: Melissa Murphy, Sydney Breithaupt, and McKensey Struzik.

The show opens in a workhouse, much like the one Dickens himself worked in as a child. Right from the beginning, it’s clear that we’re in for a treat from Choreographer Sarah Hardy.

Musical Director Colin Taylor highlighted the individual children during this performance. Unfortunately, inconsistent sound (specifically, volume) continued throughout the show, and it was difficult to understand the lyrics. I am confident that this problem will be resolved before the next performance.

Enter the intimidating presence of Mr. Bumble (Ted Frederick), and it’s back to reality for these kids. We first meet Oliver (Jacob Minuik) when he displays some serious insubordination as he delivers the classic line “Please sir, I want some more.” This one sentence transforms Oliver’s life from one of mundane structure to a whirlwind of chaos. [Oliver is also played by Ella Levri].

When we meet the Artful Dodger (Ryan Phillips), he bounces on stage with an infectious energy that offers a stark contrast the seemingly gloomy outlook for Oliver. This may be Phillips’s first production with the Playmakers, but he will surely be back soon.

Dodger brings Oliver to meet his boss, Fagin (Michael Baker) who answers the question “Where is Love?” when he warmly accepts Oliver into his gang as if he were the father figure Oliver always wanted. Baker walked the line between lovable old man and crooked thief so well that I’d do anything to sit down and have coffee with this guy. After all, it’s not often that you have an Emmy Award-winning actor on a community theater stage. But I can see the appeal since he clearly has a lot of fun playing this larger-than-life character.

Baker stole the show with his renditions of “I’d Do Anything,” Be Back Soon” and the challenging “Reviewing the Situation.”

Another standout performance was Maddy Curtis, as Nancy. She enters the show as a charming, confident young lady, but when the infamous Bill Sykes (Paul Williams) arrives. Curtis takes the audience on a dark turn. It’s immediately clear that Nancy is deeply conflicted about her relationship when she is reviewing the situation during her hauntingly beautiful performance of “As Long As He Needs Me.”

And let’s not forget about all the young actors in the show who exude so much joy! Congrats to each and every one of them! Consider yourself lucky if you can snag some of the remaining tickets to this entertaining production of Oliver!

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, including an intermission.

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Oliver! plays through August 14, 2016 at The Sterling Playmakers performing at The Theatre at Potomac Falls High School – 46400 Algonkian Parkway, in Potomac Falls, Virginia. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

LINKS:
Meet the Cast of Sterling Playmakers’ ‘OLIVER!’ Part 1: Mike Baker.

Meet the Cast of Sterling Playmakers’ ‘OLIVER!’ Part 2: Madeline Curtis.

Meet the Cast of Sterling Playmakers’ ‘OLIVER!’ Part 3: Ella Levri.

The review was written by Guest Reviewer Amy O’Neal.

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