McLean Community Players Oliver!By McCall Doyle • Jul 13th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
McLean Community Players
Alden Theater, McLean, VA
$19/$17 Students, Seniors
Playing through July 25th
Reviewed July 11th, 2009
McLean Community Players has delivered a charming production of Oliver!, featuring a talented ensemble and some stand out performances. The classic tale of Oliver Twist, the Dickensian orphan who begs for a little more gruel, has been known to audiences for well over a century. It was presented as a musical in the 1960s with great success, featuring memorable tunes such as “Food, Glorious Food,” and “Consider Yourself.”
Directors/Choreographers Pam & Kevin McCormack have worked hard to showcase their cast…their troupe of sad orphans/adorable pickpockets gave a great deal of energy at last night’s performance. Under the careful baton of musical director and conductor Joe Gems, their group numbers feature solid ensemble singing, no small feat for a group of small boys! Forrest Browne as Oliver Twist is a joy to watch. His earnest rendition of “Where is Love” sent a few chills of heartbreaking tenderness. Even with his changing young voice, he still manages to make Oliver sympathetic and charismatic.
In the small roles of Mr. & Mrs. Sowerberry, the local undertakers to whom Oliver has been sold, Michael Schlesinger and Margie Remmers stand out with hilarious expressions and great comedic timing. Schlesinger especially has a lovely singing voice, and he brings a creepy allure to the role.
The show was owned by grand master pickpocket Fagin, played with delightful eccentricity by Lyle Smythers. Smythers danced his way through his role with agility and style, and sang with unaffected candor. Cleary groomed by the conman himself, The Artful Dodger (Wesley Coleman) nearly stole the show with his spot on Cockney accent and affectation, stealthy moves, and wonderful vocals. At only 15, Coleman is a force to be reckoned with, and area audiences have a treat in store with his performance.
Mimi Preda as Nancy, the bar wench with a good heart, brings the most polished voice to the production. She handles the difficult lower register of “As Long as He Needs Me” with a warm, rich tone.
Andrew Bolden left a little to be desired as the infamous Bill Sykes. Bolden’s vocals were nice, but he lacked the truly menacing factor that Sykes needs to make his character plausible. It’s a great role, and he needs to bring him to life.
One of the few issues is that the relationship between characters isn’t really shown. The direction leaves them quite isolated…without much build on the threads that bind the various characters together. The staging is often too removed from the action (such as Nancy’s numbers, where the black curtain is drawn, cutting her off from the rest of the show), and that takes away from the realism that’s been successfully shown thus far.
Another issue is the fight choreographer. There isn’t one listed…and for a show that requires feigned punches, slaps, throws, and two death scenes…one was sorely needed. It loses effectiveness when not done properly, and with so much attention to detail in many other areas, it was a shame to lose the focus in this one.
The dialect coach (Philip Baedecker) does a very nice job with the challenging British/Cockney accents.
The costumes (Richard Battistelli) were vibrant and perfect, and the lighting design (Lynne Glikbarg) was lovely. The set (Bill Glikbarg), which at first seemed basic and functional, grew with traveling pieces as the show went on, and it was effective and well done. The painted backdrops (Dinnie Whitson) depicting various London scenes were glorious. The props (Terry Yates, Jennifer Clark, Summar Donaldson, and Nancy Perry) were also beautifully done. One small criticism would be to cut each staircase short by one step…some of the entrances and exits looked awkward as the actors had to climb up or down a few stairs to exit instead of going right into the wings.
Pam McCormack does the right thing in showcasing her strong dancers and allowing the ensemble to simply support the dancing. There isn’t a lot of intricate dance choreography to get in the way of the action, but there is a ton of clever staging that uses the space well. Children’s Dance Captain Sarah Tate also deserves a lot of credit…the boys looked practiced and comfortable.
Hats off to Stage Manager Douglas F. Yriart, who has his hands full with the more than 75 cast and crew members. Everything ran smoothly.
The biggest criticism was the musical underscoring of several moments of dialogue. Despite the body mics, the sometimes crucial dialogue was completely lost. A suggestion would be to cut it out completely, and just allow the action and dialogue to take place freely. One other small note…there were many tech people who were working hard during the actual numbers, not just during scene changes…it would be nice to have them in some sort of period clothing. Even loose flowy shirts over black pants would really them to blend in…one of the assistant SMs did this, and it made for smoother changes.
The orchestra was spot on, with especially beautiful and soulful violin playing by Michele Jacobs. She has a winning moment when battling for a solo with Fagin, and her virtuosity shines.
Sometimes it’s beneficial to cut a few of the lesser numbers if the licensing allows, at least in a show that’s geared towards children. They have shorter attention spans and much of the show’s appeal can be found even when condensed slightly. That said, the production moved extremely well, with the first act gone in a blink.
Overall, the show was bright, enjoyable, and loads of fun. You’ll be singing the tunes as you exit the theatre…and then some!
- Oliver Twist: Forrest Browne
- Artful Dodger: Wesley Coleman
- Nancy: Marion Preda
- Fagin: Lyle Smythers
- Bill Sykes: Andrew Bolden
- Bet: Alexis Vasconez
- Dr Grimwig/Ensemble: Alex Bhargava
- Noah Claypole/Ensemble: Nick Stone
- Charlotte/Ensemble: Morgan Sendek
- Mr Bumble: Paul Neiswander
- Mr Sowerberry: Michael Schlesinger
- Mrs Sowerberry: Margie Remmers
- Mr Brownlow: Lanny Slusher
- Widow Corney: Denise Wade
- Female Ensemble: Angelica Fallin-Totten, Paige Farrington-Himes, Samantha Franklin, Sydney Kirwan, Jennifer Levy, Linda Stone, Sarah Tate, Mary Kate Watson
- Male Ensemble: Bob Bender, John Norquist, Paul Parry
- Fagin/Workhouse Boy: Elijah Clark, Daniel Durgavich, Hugo Kessler, Tyler King, Connor Knutsen, Nora Leibold, Adam LeKang, Jordi Parry, Aaron Schlesinger, Alex Stone, Brittany Walsh
- Director: Kevin McCormack, Pamela McCormack
- Producer: Mike Scott
- Music Director: Joe Gems
- Assistant to Music Director: Lori Roddy
- Stage Manager: Douglas F. Yriart
- Set Designer: Bill Glikbarg
- Assistant Stage Manager: Matthew Beyers, Shayne Gardner
- Technical Director: George Farnsworth
- Lighting Designer: Lynne Glikbarg
- Sound Design: Jerry Bonnes, Bob Zeigler
- Dialect Coach: Phil Baedecker
- Children’s Dance Captain: Sarah Tate
- Master Electrician: Chris Hardy, Bob Zeigler
- Makeup: Lynn Kleyla
- Costumer: Richard (Bat) Battistelli
- Scenic Design: Dinnie Whitson
- Props: Jennifer Clark, Summer Donaldson, Nancy Perry, Terry Yates
- Set Construction: Janina Anderson, Matthew Beyers, John Downing, Cathy Farnsworth, George Farnsworth, Bill Glikbarg, Dick La Porte, Kevin McCormack, Shane Moore, Mike Scott, Bob Zeigler
- Playbill: George Farnsworth, Mike Scott
- House Manager: Columba Brumby
- Stage Crew: Cathy Farnsworth, Dick La Porte, Mary Renschler, Shirley Sameshima, Brent Stone
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