Ten good reasons why you should see Gilbert & Sullivan Society of SA’s production of the classic Oliver! at the Arts Theatre.
1. Joy. Remember joy? The joy begins from the opening number, “Food, Glorious, Food”, one of about a dozen you’ll smile, sing, hum and/or slap our thighs to. You know the ride you’re on- recognise it from times past, and relax into the now comfortable Arts Theatre seats. The chorus of little rapscallions was delightful, tight, talented and brimming with confidence, even for the opening number on opening night. Oliver! is written to appeal from the outset and here it does. Did I miss the overture?
2. David Lampard. A man who the term multi-tasking doesn’t cover – he is a one-man production company. Oliver! is not just delivered with splendid direction (with children and animals degree of difficulty), but is an intelligent production design, the core of which is a clever, dimensional set that does really, yes, take us into the back alleys of a smoky, seedy London and then effortlessly into the drawing rooms of the Brownlows. Small entr’acte snatches of theme music played by the invisible orchestra of (seemingly) hundreds conducted by the amazing Peter Johns allow this all-important flow where fly towers fly, rooms rotate, and walls dissolve and re-emerge as skylines, none of it breaking the spell of our plausible pleasure. A mention must also be made here of assistant director Amanda Rowe who is no doubt part of the multi-task-ism above.
3. Rod Schultz. To get this far without mentioning any cast member seems unfair, but today’s productions are more than ever the marriage of sheer talent and technical ‘wow factor’ and this is a very successful marriage. However, no effect beats a living, breathing person on a stage for audience engagement and Mr Schultz is that man. His Fagin is loving and cunning, jocular and venal and verbally cheeky with his doting charges and with us. He’s the father you never had and that bastard you used to live with, a redeemable character, truly affected by the story he inhabits. Over the course of the evening he will remind you that all the songs are more memorable and more meaningful than you recall.
4. Show stopping moment #1: “Where is Love”, sung by Jack Raftopolous. A little first-night nervousness added a plaintive tone to what is a number and a boy soprano voice worth the price of admission alone. From his intro, little Oliver shows he can handle this show, with his delight at times also becoming our delight.
5. Emma ‘Nancy’ Bargery. With a cockney accent so thick you could rest an entire stand-up routine on it (and thankfully not dropped when singing), Emma is Nancy in the flesh. A fine voice in a pivotal role, which was handled brilliantly. Her personal show-stopper, “Oom Pah Pah”, enlivened by great choreography from, you guessed it, David Lampard, was true, unapologetic entertainment.
6. “Who Will Buy”. Again, easy to forget the depth of this book and lyrics, why this musical endures. This lovely tune is a stand-out in the second half, with inspired direction and sweet, lilting voices. Lionel Bart knew the power of reprise, and this production understands that well.
7. The whole principal cast. John Greene is a perfect Mr Bumble, while Paul Talbot is downright scary, taking Bill Sikes a little into Stephen King territory. Bev Shean also shines, and Isaiah Fabbro, our Dodger for the night, strutted the stage like a pro.
8. Smart and multi-layered lighting. You want atmosphere, we got atmosphere, you want a light show, we got that too. All in all, it was a pleasure to see 3D lighting for a change, with dance overtones evident. Bravo, Daniel Barber, for the subtler touches. Costume design is also great with no small effort made. The costumes are created with thorough, movie-like attention to detail and uniformity of outcome and no cheap or too-new material in sight. Gigi D’Angelo – you are now my personal dresser. Please call me in the morning.
9. A classic. Go because you may wish to know how to create such a rarity. This is an enduring musical beyond episodic snatches of experience, recount and unsubtle message, it is something with a dramatic core that catches our attention early and, over the next two hours, simultaneously moves our hearts and our feet.
10. Just about everything else. All the company players and dancers, the orchestra, the unnoticeable, well-balanced sound design are excellent. Even the projections, although a tad heavy-handed in underlining dramatic moments generally enhance the overall production.
Running boisterously throughout are the theatre kids, an energetic ensemble who are dynamic and disarming. These are kids who steal your heart, the show and every hanky in the house. Despite being (almost!) bulletproof Lionel Bart’s Oliver! deserves maximum respect and maximum effort, and this production delivers both. Book a seat now- they won’t last.
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