Oliver! is set in an industrial England where work homes dealt with the poor who were given the short end of the privatization stick. It’s the past, but could also be a peek to our future.
Lionel Bart’s Oliver! is a light-hearted musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, filled with ear-wormy songs. The production is quite the heist and shows off the talent who consider themselves at home at Cottage Theatre.
Directed and choreographed by Janet Rust, the musical follows Oliver, who is kicked out of an orphanage after asking for more porridge. He’s sold to a funeral home and quickly flees. He meets Dodger, a pickpocket on his way to greatness, and tries his hand at thievery with the Fagin gang.
Tony Rust’s set design brings out the squalor of the industrial England. His portrayal of Fagin makes me wonder if this is the role he was born for, much like Christopher Lloyd was made for Doc Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy.
In his performances of “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation,” Rust maintains the necessary humor of the songs to stay likable despite being an exploitative schemer.
Musically, though, the biggest standout is Tracy Nygard as Nancy, a woman who hangs out with Fagin’s boys and the girlfriend of hotshot thief Bill Sikes. In “As Long as He Needs Me,” Nancy expresses her unrequited love to the villainous Sikes despite his treacherous nature. Nygard nails the song, providing a strong performance that musically steals the show.
Despite suffering from a cold at Saturday’s performance, Audriahna Jones still shined as Oliver — and honestly, Oliver would probably be suffering from a cold anyway, so in a way that’s being dedicated to the role.
Jones’ voice at times was a bit weak and broken in some songs, but the cold did help drive home Oliver’s depression in the song “Where Is Love?” What’s remarkable is that she still stayed in tune and kept a British accent. I can only imagine how well she can sing when she’s healthy.
The most-convincing acting during the play, though, was Kory Weimer as Sikes, the thief and (later on) murderer who’s concerned Oliver is going to snitch on the operation. Weimer so threw himself into the role that during the curtain call someone behind me booed him as he bowed.
Oliver! runs through Dec. 22 at Cottage Theatre. For show times and tickets, visit CottageTheatre.com