Diamond Head Theatre’s “Oliver!” boasts a girl , Caris Leong, portraying Oliver Twist. Talk about a surprising twist.
And Jeff Andrews delivers a rousing and riveting performance as Fagin, a scoundrel by trade and a leader at heart, in shaping the dichotomy of this rarely performed Dickensian chestnut. He’s a baddie with a good heart.
Lionel Bart’s creation, rarely revived, perhaps is best remembered for a splendid 1968 film version that brought Bart’s book, music and lyrics to life, via a cache of tunes including “Consider Yourself,” “Where Is Love,” “I’d Do Anything,” and “As Long as He Needs Me.”
This one has survived the test of time.
And yes, a classic line, “Please sir, I want some more,” uttered by the titular character seeking more (food) in the orphanage, reflects a somber tale of mistreatment of poor orphans by the wealthy based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel,“Oliver Twist.”
The musical magnifies brightness despite the darkness of Victorian misdeeds of both Mr. Bumble (Christian Clayborne) and Widow Corney (Lindsay Rabe) in a presiding climate of control and power.
The cadre of youths, propelled into pickpocketing under the tutelage of Fagin, a criminal, is essential to endure in a time where goodness manages to succeed despite prevailing despair.
As directed and choreographed by John Rampage, ‘Oliver!’ is an unexpected triumph in these troubled pandemic times, with drama on both sides of the footlights.
The restriction of coronavirus had protocols throughout the rehearsal period; seating had to be shuffled, from full-house reservations altered to resolve socially distanced policies, meaning empty seats between patrons through the show’s finale this Sunday (Nov. 7). I managed to buy tickets for an add-on show this past Wednesday (Nov. 3), which quickly sold out.
Leong, who was one of the Matildas in DHT’s “Matilda” musical several years ago, is a perky and nimble Oliver who easily could pass for a boy urchin. You really accept her for her performance, and gender never is an issue.
The cast is peopled with delightful actors with storytelling skills. The Artful Dodger (Rocco Bechiran, a credible gangleader with spunk), Bill Sikes (Jake Wolf, a perfect villain who lacks ethics) and Nancy (Kim Anderson, sweet-voiced but tough ).
It’s great to have an orchestra combo live, instead of pre-recorded), with maestro Phil Hidalgo at the helm. The sound of music — live! — is back.
Dawn Oshima’s set and lighting design are more functional than fancy, with a central catwalk/bridge with arch, accented with a pair of staircases on both ends. It works very nicely for the flow of traffic.
And Karen G. Wolfe’s costumes reflect the Dickensian times, with a flair of color for women in dresses, a lovely long overcoat for Fagin to prance and preach, an array of hats and shawls, and appropriately drab workhouse duds for the orphan gang.
And hurrah! Consider yourself lucky because the playbill is back, so pick one up inside the main lobby, before heading for your seat – you’ll need to know who does what.
Tickets will be scarce, if available, so check the website, www.diamondheadtheatre.com