Thursday, February 19, 2015

An Outstanding "Oliver!"

The classic musical retains its magic and message in a new production through Hennepin Theater Trust's 'Broadway Re-Imagined' Series

Orphans in the Work House
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust

It is often said that the way to define a truly classic piece of art is to see how well it stands the test of time.

By that standard, most art is relatively temporal; movie stars fade and die, albums are forgotten, Pulitzer winners crumble to dust in long forgotten bookshelf corners.

It is lucky for us that the work of Charles Dickens was not destined to fail the time-test.

Over a hundred years after publication, Oliver Twist proves as relevant a tale as ever, and this is clearly evident in the excellent new production of the Broadway musical Oliver! at the Pantages Theater in downtown Minneapolis.

Oliver Twist is an orphan in 1860's London, caught in between the budding schemes of imperialism,
The Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist
Photo Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
industrialism, child labor laws and the socialist revolution. He has a horrifically unfortunate life (involving, among other things, a child labor workhouse and funeral parlor) until he meets a friendly thief named Artful Dodger, who brings him to relative safety. The trouble is, Dodger works for another thief (Fagin), who is equal parts philanthropist (taking in the city's numerous orphans and feeding/sheltering/clothing them) and pimp (training the children as thieves and whores to earn their keep).

Oliver eventually makes his way to the home of a rich man, and the rest of the story entails the struggle between rich and poor, Fagin fighting to reclaim Oliver from his luxurious new home, Fagin's lackeys (including the beautifully sorrowful prostitute Nancy) caught in between, and the eventual triumph of good (and money) over evil.

Peter Rothstein went all out with this cast; orphans are played by the Minnesota boys choir, Nate Turcotte is a winsome Oliver, and Lauren Davis lends a new sheen to Nancy.

A few actors, however, made the show and are a great reminder that any 'old' material can be made fresh. Alec Fisher is slyly fabulous as the Artful Dodger, with more than enough spunk for the entire gang of thieves. James Ramlet unveils a spectacular bass voice as Mr. Bumble, and his appearances are a consistent delight. And Bradley Greenwald is a revelation as Fagin, lending his signature sarcastic charm and versatile voice to a part that deserves his swagger. Greenwald also performs several special 'magical' stage effects in his role; kids and grownups alike are sure to enjoy it.

Bradley Greenwald as Fagin
Photo Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
Oliver!  is an enduring tale, especially in an age when class, race, and politics are so fraught with conflict. The value in Oliver! is its existence in the gray space between these tensions, showing what happens to those who are caught in the spoke of an onward moving society. It's a morality tale packaged in a sprightly musical, and it's a great show for people of any age. This production has the benefit of being locally grown and running for a while; click on this link to make sure to get your tickets now.