Tuesday, January 29, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW OLIVER—With a Twist By Beverly Creasey

Deborah Samson worked as a seamstress in 1776 making uniforms for the Continental Army when what she really wanted was to participate in the Revolution first hand. She sewed herself a nifty uniform, disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment under the name of her deceased brother. “Robert” joined General Washington’s troops in Worcester and set out for New York where she was wounded (but survived) at the Battle of Tarrytown. Now wouldn’t you think that the history books would sing the praises of the first woman to fight in the revolution? Hah!

Jane Staab has portrayed many roles at the Wheelock Family Theatre which are usually played by male actors but her Fagan is the first time she’s played a woman masquerading as a (leading) man. Certainly in Dickens’ time, a woman would never have been able to head a gang of thieves (or hold her own against a master criminal like Bill Sykes). Just as it was across the pond a half century earlier for Debora Samson, women in England had two basic options: marriage or the street.

Wheelock’s OLIVER (playing through Feb. 24th) has Staab’s clever twist at the end to give Fagan, as well as Oliver, a second chance but director Susan Kosoff’s lively production has even more to make it a must see. First rate performances make every scene compelling: from Dan Dowling, Jr’s commanding Beadle (his “Boy for Sale” will give you chills) to Jeffrey Sewell’s charismatic Artful Dodger (a snappy “Consider Yourself at Home”) to Charlie Clinton’s spunky Oliver (the sweetest “Where is Love” ever) to Brittany Rolfs’ take charge Nancy (a wild “It’s a Fine Life”) to Timothy John Smith’s ferocious Bill Sykes (a harrowing “My Name”).

OLIVER is brimming with talented character actors like M. Lynda Robinson, Gamalia Pharms, Deb Poppel, Neil Gustafson and Cliff Odle ---and a fine ensemble who make Lionel Bart’s musical gleam. (I had forgotten how good it is!) From Charles G. Baldwin’s smart costumes to Laurel Conrad’s sparkling choreography to Matthew Lazure’s foreboding London set, this OLIVER will delight and it will make you think!