Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 25, 2019

REVIEW: St. Michael’s Players, Oliver!

St. Michael’s Players, East Longmeadow, MA
through November 24, 2019
By Stuart W. Gamble

Attending the performance of Lionel Bart’s treasured musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist” is truly a community event.

Directed with professional panache by Frank Jackson along with Assistant Director/Producer Rose Stella, this familiar story and staple of the musical theater is brought to vivid life by an extremely enthusiastic and talented cast.

The oft-told tale of Oliver Twist (terrifically sung and acted by Gavin Grout) takes the audience through the young boy’s episodic childhood starting as an orphanage inmate (beige prison-like uniforms and grey-brick walls were reminiscent of a workhouse prison).

Ultimately rescued by the Artful Dodger (scrappy Emma Linehan), Oliver is tutored in the art of pick pocketing by the sly Fagin (wonderfully played by Peter Hicks) and eventually finds a loving home with the wealthy Mr. Brownlow (John Laviolette).

St. Michael’s Players gives such fresh life in their interpretation of “Oliver!” that it felt like it was a brand-new show, despite its over 50 -year existence. The well-played and sung roles are to be commended. The jaunty, on the beat entrance of the young orphans singing their hearts and empty stomachs out for “Food” starts the show with a bang.

Peter Scully’s deeply resonant bass and Sue McNary’s lilting soprano make a comic duo. Melissa Butcher’s sensitive portrayal of the tragic Nancy powerfully belts out “As Long as He Needs Me,” “It’s A Fine Life,” and rousing “Oom Pah- Pah” – the latter with beer hall denizens that were true showstoppers.

Peter Hicks’ Fagin earns a well-deserved ovation for his eleventh-hour soliloquy “Reviewing the Situation.” AJ Berube’s intense Bill Sikes adds just the right menacing tone and the most authentic cockney accent in the cast.

The more than 50 cast members fill the stage for “Consider Yourself” and “Who Will Buy?” aided by the simple, yet clever choreography of Courtney Normand and the steady underscoring of the seven-piece orchestra led by Frank Jackson. Karen Bonci’s colorful and authentic Victorian costumes might benefit dirtied-up to create gritty atmosphere. Sue Maciorowski and Jackson’s set designs are the perfect backdrop with bits of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral peeking out.

Despite the obvious warmth and sentimental love infused into the musical, themes of child exploitation and human trafficking are just as disturbing now to contemporary audiences as they were for readers in Dickens’ time.

The theatre posts a sign that a portion of “Oliver!” proceeds will go to Christian’s House for Battered Women. St. Michael’s truly walks the walk.