Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“Oliver”

I am a big fan of Light Opera Works and the amazing productions that they put on. In particular, I have always appreciated the fact that they end the year with a major musical for the Holiday season. I have always found these to be “family” productions, so the entire family can enjoy being together for the theatrical experience. I was a bit surprised when they announced that this year, this production would be “Oliver” The musical adaptation of “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, with book,music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. While Dickens has a major holiday play in “A Christmas Carol”, I find that “Oliver” is not geared for the family as it is a “dark” story, about the search for love,family and home. While this is a lovely theme, it is how we get there that will bother some younger family members ( and as I saw at the opening performance, many elder patrons who were gone at intermission).

The production itself is up to the usual standars of this wonderful company, one of the few smaller ones who employ a full orchestra to make their music memorable. This score features many wonderful pieces: “Who Will Buy”, “As Long As He Needs Me”, “Where is Love”, “Consider Yourself”  and a host of others, but as a “family entertainment”, despite many youngsters in the large cast, this is no “Sound of Music” or “Music Man”. They say that it is suitable for ages 8 and older, but that may depend upon the 8 year old. The story has children in a work-house, one of which is sold because he asked for more food. He ends up working at a casket shop for an undertaker, runs away and joins up with a band of pickpockets ( “You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket or Two”) and then gets involved with a killer. Will your 8 year old enjoy this?

Despite the darkness of the story, director Rudy Hogenmiller has worked hard to lighten it up a bit, but there is only so much one can do to do this and retain the depth of the story. Oliver ( Michael Semanic is a delight and his voice is that of an angel) The notorious Fagin is richly played by James Harms who makes this crook almost lovable with a heart and as it turns out a soul ( his rendition of “Reviewing The Situation” is adorable and powerful).  The other standout cast members are Colette Todd as Nancy ( Ms Todd nails her “As Long As He Needs Me” and they announced this evening that she will return for next year’s “Annie Get Your Gun” and I am already excited), Artful Dodger, the young lad who finds liver and brings him to Fagin is artfully handled by Darren Barrere, a recent grad of Northwestern and I have a feeling we will be seeing more of him in the years to come. The comic roles of Mr. Bumble and MrsCorney are handled by Cary Lovett and Sarah Jane Blevins ( two solid performers) and the mean and nasty villain, Bill Sykes by the very tall Edward J. MacLennan, who truly comes across as the man everyone fears.                                                                      

The ensemble has some strong talent as well, some playing multi roles. One of the ensemble members, Jody Goldman has been in almost all of the shows I have witnessed over the years and gets to show off her voice a bit more in this one and David Elliott and Patrice Egleston make a wonderful Mr and Mrs Sowerberry. The set ( (Adam L.Veness) is a work of art and not one that you might expect from a theater company that has a short run on a lower budget. Very impressive as were the costumes by  Brenda Winstead and the lighting by Andrew H. Meyers. The choreography by Christopher Carter was somewhat limited, but this is not a show known for dance. Julia Eberhardt’s props were all well done and only one broke that I noticed, the only flaw in the production staff’s work. The music, one of the highlights of Light Opera orks, conducted by Roger L.Bingaman ( who also serves as Chorus Master) is as always perfect and worthy of the ovation they get from audience and performers.

As I said, this is a solid production, but in my opinion not the perfect one for the Holiday Season, but you can judge for yourself by attending the show at Cahn Auditorium at Northwester University ( 600 Emerson Street at Sheridan Road, in Evanston) through Monday, December 31st ( New Year’s Eve). The performance schedule is as follows:

Sunday ( today) at 2 p.m.

Wednesday 12/26 and Thursday 12/27 at 2 p.m.                                                                                                                                                                

Friday 12/28 at 8 p.m.

Saturdays 12/29 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Sunday 12/30 at 2 p.m. and Monday 12/31 at 8 p.m.

Running time 2 1/2 hours including intermission

Tickets range from $32-$92 ( New Year’s Eve $2 additional) and on the Family Matinee dates children under 21 are half price with a meet the cast after the 2 p.m. performance

To order your tickets call the box office at 847-920-5360 or visit www.LightOperaWorks.org

To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com go to review round-up and click on “Oliver”

FYI- next year’s schedule is a good one featuring “H.M.S.Pinafore”, “Cabaret”, “Gershwin’s Greatest Hits” and “Annie Get Your Gun”

Subscriptions are available now to save you money. Parking is available just south of the Auditorium on Chicago Avenue ( free street parking) , some metered and the city lot

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