Theater review: ‘Oliver!’ at Parkway Playhouse

CONSIDER YOURSELF: The streets of Victorian England come to life as Oliver (Faith Creech), a malnourished orphan, escapes to London and finds acceptance among a group of petty thieves and pickpockets. From the left, Steve Elderbrock, Aaron Neighbors, Bobby Guenther, Creech and Myra McCoury star. Photo by Meandering Photography

Parkway Playhouse director Erika Tyner addressed the audience before the current show to draw a connection between the Dickensian world of Oliver Twist to the plight of migrant children being forcibly separated from their parents at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The Parkway’s production of the musical theater staple, Oliver!, runs through Saturday, July 14.

Tyner found nearly 20 talented kids to become mid-19th century street urchins of London in this classic tale of thieves and rascals finding as much joy as they can in a world where poverty banishes them to the margins of society.

As the titular Oliver, Faith Creech is exuberance and charm wrapped in a skilled young actor. She shines the minute she takes the stage. Though a girl, she plays a boy named Oliver perfectly.

The show establishes a broad comic style early on with performances from Mike Yow as Mister Bumble (wearing a Napoleon hat that deserved its own billing) and WJ Cunningham and Trissa King as Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (channeling an Adams Family vibe as the dour undertakers who purchase Oliver from Bumble). Oliver escapes and meets Dodger (played with panache by Aaron Neighbors) on the street. Dodger introduces him to a world of orphans working for the ne’er-do-well Fagin as pickpockets. Steve Elderbrock gives Fagin the kind of twinkle that Alan Alda had as Hawkeye on “MASH.” He’s a bit of a fast-talking scoundrel, but he has a heart of gold.

The kids dominate the production, as they should in such a tale, and the choreographed numbers are among some of Parkway’s finest efforts. As Dodger, Neighbors perfectly accentuates Creech’s Oliver, and they are quite a dynamic duo, singing and dancing their way through the song “Consider Yourself At Home.”

As a seasoned criminal with a mean streak, Bobby Guenther’s menacing Bill Sykes hangs like a dark shadow over Fagin and the prostitute Nancy. Myra McCoury shines as Nancy, and is clearly one of the most professional and accomplished performers on the stage, alongside Guenther.

The darker edges of Charles Dickens’ classic tale are only slightly blunted by the song and dance sequences. The fact that Oliver has been one of the most enduring musicals of the past several generations is a testament to the source material and the work of Lionel Bart, who wrote the entire script and music. There is a deeper social commentary there, often struggling to get out amid the songs and scene changes (which felt overly long at times).

The opening night performance seemed a bit timid at first. A full orchestra filled the front of the house, beneath the edge of the stage, yet the music was never quite full or as dominant as you might expect. Most of the songs seemed to be accompanied by keyboard with other instruments providing slight additions.

Still, there’s a pluckiness that shines through. Strong performances from the leads help carry the show and make it easy to forgive the occasional hiccups.

WHAT: Oliver!
WHERE: Parkway Playhouse, 202 Green Mountain Drive, Burnsville. parkwayplayhouse.com
WHEN: Through Saturdya, July 14, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. $13-24

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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One thought on “Theater review: ‘Oliver!’ at Parkway Playhouse

  1. Theatre Lover

    ” . . .the choreographed numbers are among some of Parkway’s finest efforts . . .”
    Who was the choreographer?

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