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UWW's 'Oliver!' stunning stage show

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

August 1, 2013

 

WAUKESHA - The musical version of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “Oliver Twist” first hit the Broadway stage in 1963. Fifty years later, it is still entertaining audiences with its winsome story and its memorable music. 

The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha has taken on the task of staging it for our viewing pleasure and has succeeded in creating a quality production under the auspices of Steve Decker’s direction and the combined talents of students and community players.

The story involves a poor orphan who is tossed about from place to place and in the process affects many others’ lives. Dickens was always an advocate for the plight of the poor, and this theme is evident throughout the play. We see people trying to survive in an unjust world and some resorting to crime to do it. We also see redemption and love and forgiveness transcend evil. Even Fagin, a symbol of greed and manipulation, changes after “Reviewing the Situation.”

The characters are well- drawn. Oliver stands out as the gutsy child who dares to question the system. We sense that he will overcome all odds because he is so courageous and lovable. 

Jonathan LaMack is well-cast as Oliver. He is strong in both his acting and singing skills and touches our hearts when he sings the poignant “Where is Love.”

Another standout is Madeleine Kuenn as the Artful Dodger. Her spunk is mesmerizing. Ryan Cappleman is a striking presence in his role as Fagin. He captures the ambiguity of Fagin’s greed and bigheartedness. Occasionally, his words elude us, but he more than compensates for any flaws in his delivery by his imposing disposition. And what a singing voice!

Bill Sykes, as played by Joey Woolfolk, is so despicable that it stretches our credulity when Nancy, so beautifully played by Morgen Clary, loves and supports him. But we’ve all known women of her ilk who need to be needed more than truly loved and respected. At least her loyalties shift near the end of the story, despite the price she has to pay for her choice. Clary delivers the show’s signature song, “As Long As He Needs Me” very movingly.

Overall, the show is well-designed and costumed (Steve and Candace Decker), beautifully choreographed (Ryan Cappleman), and musically harmonious (Nancy and Jennifer Van Brunt). Scene changes are well- organized and smoothly accomplished so the story keeps flowing.

Besides the two songs mentioned above, several others deserve mention. “Who Will Buy” was especially beautifully rendered. “Consider Yourself” and “I’d Do Anything” were my personal favorite ensemble numbers. Many of the actors play multiple roles and do so with apparent ease.

The energy of the many young actors added a lot to the show’s overall success, and the live band, conducted by Craig Hurst, made its contribution. Considering the huge cast of actors, musicians and tech crew, Decker deserves commendation for the stunning and seamless results.

“Oliver!” is staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on the UW-Waukesha campus, 1500 N. University Drive. Tickets can be purchased at the door.