Friday, November 16, 2012

Luke's Reviews: Oliver!

I was thrilled to see Oliver! not only because I love the music and wanted to see the show for myself, but also because I had heard lots of good things about the group performing it.  This production of Oliver! was not quite what I expected, it was different from the movie, but not necessarily in the normal way, the costume choices were abnormal, and the casting/acting also surprised me.  But all in all I thoroughly enjoyed Young Actors Playhouse's production of:
The Show:
I have loved Oliver! for a long time because of it's music and it's characters.  A principle reason for this is the character of Fagin.  Fagin is one of my favorite Broadway roles of all time (7th on my list, and one of the few that I could conceivably play someday) because of his playful spirit and witty songs.  I also love the fact that he is neither a hero or a villain  just a selfish third party (which always make for the best characters).  But even aside from Fagin's appeal, the show is good because it has solid music (with tons of classics) and tells one of the most beloved stories of all time: Oliver Twist.  What I've found is that I'm not a huge fan of Charles Dickens's books, but the musical adaptations (Drood, Oliver!, Tale of Two Cities, etc.) are actually pretty darn cool.  I'm actually surprised that this is my first time seeing it performed live because it's full ensemble and propensity towards young actors makes it a favorite for highschools and community theaters everywhere.

The Production Team:
As I said, I've been wanting to see a YAP show for a long time.  Ever since I missed their production of Godspell (possibly my biggest regret of 2012....seriously).   After several missed opportunities, I finally had the pleasure of seeing one of their shows and it was...well...different than I expected.  I'm not going to say that it surpassed my expectations, because those were already unfairly high, but when I think about it it didn't disappoint me either.  Allow me to explain:

THE SOUND--One trap I always fall into is I always over estimate the theater.  The place where their shows are performed is really a nice little theater and a ton of fun to perform on (I did The Wizard of Oz there YEARS ago) but the sound quality just isn't good.  This is of no fault to the group, but the music wasn't quite right at times (from what I can tell they had some sort of mixture of a recording and live orchestra), a couple mics malfunctioned (it can happen to anyone), and for some reason I wasn't able to fully engage because of the sound.

THE SET -- The set they constructed for Oliver! was really impressive with two levels and three entrances (not including the aisles and a little hole in the wall a kid scurried into once), but underused.  Despite the impressive set they had designed, they spent the entire show in the same place.  The upper level was only used maybe three times and only once did they work in the dynamic of having both levels going on at the same time (which is a shame because it could've made for a pretty cool "Who Will Buy").  To be perfectly honest, I get the feeling that they could've achieved a similar effect with a couple of flats and perhaps a small platform in the back.

THE COSTUMES: I must say that I didn't quite understand the costumes they used, but I think I liked them.  In this show they made some really cool, modern choices such as Dodger's almost ghetto look and Sykes's leather jacket, but then reverted to classic period costumes in Nancy's dress and Fagin's trench coat. For the most part, the ensemble leaned towards the modern feel and I liked that, I think it added.  I just wish they could've been a little bit more consistent.

EVERYTHING ELSE:--Everything else was pretty standard.  There really wasn't much creativity with the lighting, but I don't think they had much to work with.  The staging wasn't bad, but I feel like they missed a few key moments.  They failed to utilize the upper level or the aisles very much at all (once again, "Who Will Buy" could've been even more awesome!) but aside from that the blocking was solid.  I liked the choreography (when it was there) and they did a good job creating a crowd atmosphere without looking chaotic (which is harder than it looks).

The Cast


  • Theo B. (Oliver) -- Unlike the rest of the cast, Theo didn't have to worry about living up to the movie, for the poor kid they got to play Oliver in the movie was simply dreadful (I'm sorry, it had to be said). I definitely feel that this kid did much better, but I am beginning to realize how difficult the role is.  For one thing, Oliver has to sing some songs that are not in the range of the average adolescent boy (I've seen girls sing "Where is Love" at cabaret style performances and it honestly works better).  That being said, and this may have been a character choice, but Oliver never seemed to show much emotion.  I don't know that I saw him smile the whole show and he just borrow a phrase from Miracle Max, "mostly dead".  His singing was fairly good, and he had a good voice for the role, but his face just didn't really show anything.
  • Anthony B. (Mr. Bumble) -- I'll give it to this guy, he did a pretty good job.  He took the role in a bit of a different direction than I was expecting (making him more of a thug than a bureaucrat) and that was a nice surprise.  His voice didn't blow me away at first (which, as I said  could be attributed to the sound quality of the theater), but he really did a nice job in "Boy For Sale" which is by no means an easy song.  I sometimes felt he could've used a little more variety of expression (he seemed vaguely angry almost all of the time).  But he is certainly a strong actor, he just made some character choices that I didn't quite follow.
  • James F. (Artful Dodger) -- I think I can go as far as to say that James was my favorite in this cast.  For one thing, his accent was spot on and never wavered.  He also really did have a good voice, great stage presence  and the kid wasn't a half bad dancer.  I honestly could've find a single thing wrong with James performance.  He had several wonderful moments (probably most notably in "I'd Do Anything"), and really carried the show in a sense.  Congratulations James, my cap is off to you (I'm just kidding...I'm not really wearing a cap).
  • Douglas B. (Fagin) -- Douglas, like most of the adults in the show, was attracted to the show because he was in it as a child (apparently as Dodger).  His passion for the role shone through in his performance, he played the part much like I would and I could tell that he has watched several other people play the role (as I have) and took bits and pieces from the best of them.  His singing wasn't spectacular and I might have chosen some different acting choices in "Reviewing the Situation" (only because I've run through that song a thousand times in my head), but aside from that every choice, and every movement was perfect.  But most importantly, I really felt his character shining through.  It was clear to me that he had a good sense of what the character was supposed to be and he pulled it off brilliantly.
  • Henley S. (Nancy) -- Henley really was excellent in this role.  For one thing, she made her long (in my opinion a bit too long) song, "As Long As He Needs Me" fully engaging and didn't lose my attention for a moment, which is quite a feat in itself.  Although her costume didn't really seem to fit the rest of the cast, her energy and her spirit fit right in.  She was really excellent in "I'd Do Anything" and seemed to have good chemistry with really everyone in the show.  She really did give a beautiful performance.
  • Jarrett H. (Bill Sykes) -- I suppose this wasn't his fault, but for some reason I just couldn't take Jarrett seriously in this role.  Perhaps it was his build (he wasn't a very big guy), perhaps it was his voice (deep and gravely it was not), or perhaps it was just because I was expecting something else, but I just wasn't intimidated at all in the way that Sykes is supposed to intimidate people.  As I said, it probably wasn't Jarrett's fault; he played ever evil cliche in the book.  Maybe that's why I didn't get it, he always had that evil scowl on his face that just seemed contrived.  To be fair, I don't know of a better way to play the role, but there should be a way without screaming every line and squinting the entire show.  I don't mean to knock the guy too much, he did have one of the toughest roles in the show, and his voice was pretty good, I just don't know that he was right for this particular part.
  • Chandler H. (Mr. Brownlow) -- Chandler had the unfortunate luck of being given a very significant role....that doesn't sing a note.  There are a few characters like this that sprinkle musical theater (The Constable from Fiddler On The Roof comes to mind) and they aren't bad characters, and they are crucial to the plot, but for those of us who learn about a musical from it's soundtrack, they aren't particularly memorable.  Chandler did well with this pure acting role, but unfortunately, he wasn't giving much to work with.  His character rarely changed expression and rarely showed an emotion other than concern.  In fact, he rarely stood up!  Now, I don't blame the blocking on the actor, he did seem to do well with what he was given, but the character just didn't leave much of an impression on me (good or bad) at all.
  • Emma L. (Charlie Bates) -- I can't tell you how impressed I am with young miss Emma.  She really embodied everything that Fagin's gang is supposed to be.  I'm glad that she was casted as Charlie because I know what it's like to be the one guy in the Ensemble who's really trying (not to demean the rest of them, they weren't bad, but they lacked Emma's enthusiasm) and I'm glad that she was rewarded for her efforts by having a stand-out role.  Charlie was a role that I didn't particularly expect to like, but ended up being one of the best in the show.  Brava Emma.
  • Matt J. (Mr. Sowerberry) -- I had the pleasure of seeing Matt in 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (as Chip Tolentino) and although he was good there, I felt that he was even better in this role (although it was somewhat smaller).  His physicality was fantastic and the confidence in which he carried himself whenever he was on stage was great.  His song (which I hadn't heard before) was hilarious (it would've been funnier if we could hear it better) and I found myself wishing his role was larger.  Congratulations Matt, you were excellent!
  • Virginia F. (Mrs. Sowerberry) -- Virginia did a good job with her role, but unfortunately she was a bit overshadowed by Matt's performance.  She was a bit reserved and quiet (especially compared to her "husband").  However, her voice was nice and, from reading her bio, I see that she was predominantly in this show to support her children and husband (who were also in the cast) and I think it was nice that the whole family decided to do the show together.
  • Gracie D. (Widow Corney) -- THIS GIRL WAS HILARIOUS   From the second she entered the stage I was laughing.  Her physicality in the way she stands, walks, and talks were so funny and so inspired.  She did have one scene in Act II that made absolutely no sense, but aside from that I really loved every scene she was in.  She really gave a great performance.
  • Caroline P. (Bet) - According to her bio this was Caroline's first real role in a musical, and I have to say, I couldn't tell.  All though I wouldn't say she "stole the show", she had a good stage presence, and looked fairly confident and in character.  Of course, her character is always on stage next to Nancy, Dodger and the like, so she was a bit overshadowed, but even through that I thought she did a very good job.
  • Daniel F. (Noah Claypole) & Amy C. (Charlotte) -- I'm putting these two together because that's how they usually appeared on stage, and their characters honestly serve the same purpose.  Nevertheless, as a pair, these two did kind of stand out.  Daniel had the accent mastered and he and Amy had a good chemistry and rhythm with each other that made their scenes really pop.  I also was really impressed with their (particularly Daniel's) physical comedy.  There was a brief scene towards the end of the show where, for no discernible reason, Daniel stumbled on stage completely drunk, with a girl on each arm, and then just walked right off.  While this snippet was completely purposeless, it looked like he was having fun with it and he did a fairly good job.
  • Townspeople -- I don't know how I feel about the townspeople ensemble.  I thought that there weren't enough of them seeing as songs like "Who Will Buy" didn't have near enough action going on stage.  But when act two began I saw how many Townsfolk there really were in "Oom Pah Pah" and the stage looked kind of cluttered.  Observances like this make me think that maybe the ensemble wasn't directed properly, but aside from that they were fairly average.  They all sang their songs and did their dances and, while they weren't without a flubbed lyric or missed dance step, they fleshed out the show pretty well.  The subsection of the Townspeople I'd like to discuss in more detail are the four who were featured in "Who Will Buy".  I will once again re-iterate: WHY WERE THEIR ONLY FOUR OF THEM!?!?!  If I'm correct that song is built to divide, if not perfectly, fairly reasonably into main vocal groups (Baritone, Alto, Messo, Soprano).  But only having one representative from each group (none of whom were miced) just sounded kind of weak and underwhelming.  Not that the singing wasn't good, there were some beautiful notes hit, but the power wasn't there.
  • Orphans -- For the orphans YAP did something that I don't agree with, but isn't uncommon.  The orphans were almost exclusively made up of very young children who were only in this one song.  Now, I'm all for giving the young ones their time in the spotlight, but not when the roles don't call for young actors.  Having Oliver be the oldest orphan is kind of backwards from the way I thought it was supposed to be.  I mean, I know directors love having little kids in their show because it pulls in grandparents, and the kids were having fun, so I'm not really upset, but it did take away from the story a bit.
  • Fagin's Gang -- I liked watching Fagin's gang because they were very symbolic of children's theater everywhere.  There were some who were really in character and completely devoted to their character, and others that were just their because their friends were.  All in all though, these kids were pretty impressive, they had to do some fairly complex choreography, and had to do a lot of "background acting" (no easy feat) and, on the whole, they did a very good job with this.
This is my first non-highschool or above show that I've seen in a long time, and so if I sound overly critical it's because perhaps I had unreal expectations.  However, I really did enjoy the show and I intend to go back to see several more of YAP's shows (they have a spectacular season coming up), and I would encourage you to do the same (Especially Legally Blonde, it's going to have some amazing choreography!).  In the mean time, stay tuned for my review of Lassiter Highschool's Zombie Prom and my live blogging on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (not necessarily in that order).

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