The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre presents Oliver! Photo by Cliff Roles.
It’s a good year for Charles Dickens—a celebration of his birth 200 years ago has brought many tributes, including the current PBS Masterpiece Theatre production of his Great Expectations starring Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham. Here in Sarasota, the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre does its part by presenting the 1960s hit musical adaptation of Oliver Twist, Oliver!
The book by Lionel Bart strips down the original to its bare essentials, and the staging at the Apple is minimal, too, in terms of set or atmosphere. Don’t expect to see a full panorama of Victorian London, with its thieves’ dens, workhouses, taverns and occasional upper-class neighborhood. Rather, quickly removable chairs and a portrait or two provide the backdrop for this tale of an orphan boy whose hard luck turns to good fortune in the best of Dickens’ highly coincidental style.
The orphan boy is played, winningly, by Stevie Romero, although the show’s opening number, Food, Glorious Food, as performed by Romero and his fellow workhouse boys, gets things off to a rather subdued start. The quick courtship of the avaricious Widow Corney (Helen Holliday) and her suitor, the officious Mr. Bumble (Robby May, who also makes a strong impression as the villainous Bill Sykes), livens the production up a bit, but it’s not until we encounter the Artful Dodger (Matty Colonna) and his fellow ragamuffins, under the protective “care” of the scoundrel Fagin (Steve Dawson) that Oliver! really kicks into high gear.
In fact, for many local theater fans the appearance of Dawson, and his equally talented partner, Dianne Dawson, who plays the spirited Nancy here, can make an evening that might otherwise be ho-hum turn into a pleasure to watch. There are those who might clamor for “all Dawsons, all the time,” especially when they’re as well cast in their roles as they are here.
Dawson’s Nancy not only leads her uptempo ensemble numbers (Oom-pah-pah, It’s a Fine Life) with gusto; she also makes us care about Nancy and even believe that she really would do almost anything for the hardly lovable Sykes. And Steve Dawson as Fagin looks as if he stepped right out of the novel’s illustrations, with his scraggly long hair, pointed beard and generally skeezy demeanor. He has a fine time rendering the not-all-bad Fagin’s dilemma in Reviewing the Situation, or sending out the pickpocketing troops with a cheerful Be Back Soon.
Their performances, along with the raft of memorable songs that include Where Is Love, Consider Yourself and As Long As He Needs Me and the aforementioned work by Romero, Holliday and May, make this Oliver! worth seeing. It continues through May 6; call 366-5454 or go to thegoldenapple.com for tickets.