Chicago Theater Review: OLIVER! (Light Opera Works)

by Lawrence Bommer on December 23, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

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LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD

It’s easy to see what drew Cameron Mackintosh to revive Lionel Bart’s hit musical 18 years ago: Dickens is a lot like Victor Hugo. Like Mackintosh’ smash Les Miserables, the 1960 musical replays an entire novel at warp speed, with fully realized opportunities to depict a swarming cityscape and gloomy Victorian back alleys and bridges. Despite a plot rife with sexual abuse, child exploitation, and murder, Oliver! is surprisingly feel-good; like Annie, it’s a rags-to-riches tale of an orphan made good despite manifest evil. Oliver, whose innate goodness is assumed rather than developed, just needs enough pluck and luck to outwit the dastardly robber renegade Fagin, cruel Bill Sikes, and Nancy, Sikes’ much-abused and vaguely maternal moll.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Light Opera Works' "Oliver!" in Evanston, Chicago

Endearing and exhilarating in its zest to please, Light Opera Works’ heartfelt revival, smoothly staged by artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller, earns its exclamation point, with Chris Carter’s rollicking choreography particularly and exuberantly Dickensian. The swift-moving show, with Adam L. Veness’ even swifter turntable set of rolling stairs and roofs, spins the melodrama and misses few opportunities for occasional attempts at depth. Bart’s serviceable songs inspire major hoofing in the “Consider Yourself,” “It’s a Fine Life,” and “Who Will Buy?” production numbers.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Light Opera Works' "Oliver!" in Evanston, Chicago

Sweet and vulnerable, Michael Semanic brings a pure boy soprano to the heart-rending (and rhetorically questioning) “Where Is Love?,” while L.O.W. favorite James Harms’ resolutely un-ethnic Fagin stirs up fewer stereotypes than past performers but amply conveys the culprit’s insecure solitude amid a gang of thieves. If anyone can make Nancy’s ballad “As Long As He Needs Me” (today an embarrassing monument to the worst enabling) bearable, it’s Colette Todd, who steals all of her songs.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Light Opera Works' "Oliver!" in Evanston, Chicago

Darren Barrere’s Artful Dodger and the other rascally pickpockets offer unstoppable energy and contagious fun. (This is to boy choruses what Annie is to the girls.) J. MacLennan’s bullyboy Bill oozes predatory opportunism as much as Fagin incarnates his equally desperate greediness. In contrast, Cary Lovett’s Mr. Bumble is institutionalized evil, all too protected by his own ignorance and cunning.

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Light Opera Works' "Oliver!" in Evanston, Chicago

Rich with all the compassion Dickens conferred on his rag-to-riches chronicle, Light Opera Work’s revival is sturdy stuff – and, as always, the orchestra, conducted by Light Opera Works music director Roger L. Bingaman, is as authentic as the acting. With this terrific production, newcomers to and lovers of the musical will have no need to be “reviewing the situation.”

Lawrence Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Light Opera Works' "Oliver!" in Evanston, Chicago

photos by Chris Ocken

Oliver!
Light Opera Works at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston
scheduled to end on December 31, 2012
for tickets call 847-920-5360 or visit http://www.LightOperaWorks.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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