Like many people, I have fond memories of the musical Oliver! Unfortunately, I had to rely on them a great deal in order to enjoy the Manatee Players’ current production of the show, which just doesn’t supply the fun, energy or pathos of the original.
Coming off a more successful start of the season with South Pacific and, most notably, Sunday in the Park with George, it’s almost as if the company needs a breather—or, in this case, perhaps another week of rehearsal. The lack of zest was evident from the opening song, Food, Glorious Food, which seemed low-spirited and off—mostly, I think, because of the absence of a live orchestra. Singing along to a recorded version of the score drastically cut down on the level of cast-audience engagement.
That was perhaps a cost consideration, but it’s a sapping one for the show. The singers, even the stronger ones, seem to struggle to feel a connection to the music. And they often sound breathless while trying to incorporate the singing into the choreography assigned by director Dewayne Barrett. Of course, the movement is needed, especially on ensemble numbers like Consider Yourself, Oom-Pah-Pah and Pick a Pocket or Two, but it’s hard for the vocalists to keep up with it.
That said, there are some strong performers on the stage. Robert David May as Fagin boasts a lot of make-up and a natural ability to sing and act to convey the greed, scruffy charm and underlying vulnerability of the character. Karen Lalosh looks the part and sings well as the tough-talking, kind-hearted Nancy, and MaryKate Duigan is always lively as the Widow Corney. Stevie Lee Romero is a suitably sweet and lovable little Oliver, and Chris Wolf, Barbara Wolf and Channing Weir add some fun as the undertaking Sowerberrys, but their scenes are too brief to make much impact overall.
There are a few nice moments here, but mostly this Oliver! is a case of being, like its namesake, starved for more. The show continues at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre through Dec. 29; call 758-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.