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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Sheboygan troupe’s ‘Oliver!’ has its moments

Performers fresh to the company dominate the cast.

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WFRV) – Normally in a printed theatrical program, an asterisk (*) after a name means the performer is a member of Equity, the union of actors. The asterisk signifies the performer has been on stage for years and has earned his or her stripes – and the audience should expect the best. In the program for The Sheboygan Theatre Company’s production of the spunky musical “Oliver!” the asterisks mean the performer is new to the company, if not to performing on any stage. In the 16 key roles, 11 performers are new to the company. Among the 18-member Kids Ensemble, 15 are first timers (which is somewhat expected due to the young age required). The good news for the company is there’s a lot of new energy among the cast. The flip side is allowances have to be made for the production in consistency. Overall, the show is good (3½ stars out of 5), with bright and/or fascinating points.

Director Pat Payne has a really nice Oliver in Connor Martin – bright voice, being on top of his role. Oliver is a classic Charles Dickens main character – caught in a series of adventures/misadventures due to circumstances beyond his/her control. In the case of Oliver Twist, London of the mid-1800s is often harrowing with its rough-and-ready life style that’s sometimes deadly and violent. Oliver is adrift as an orphan. He is sold for five pounds and hooks up with a gang of crooks headed by one of the most genial crooks of all time, Fagin. All this is played out with catchy songs from creator Lionel Bart.

Duncan Doherty, playing Fagin, may have an asterisk with his name, but he clearly has a practiced voice. The best scene in the show is “Reviewing the Situation,” with Fagin/Duncan Doherty vividly working the fine points of the pithy song and playing off the interludes with the violinist in the pit.

Also strong is Bethany Leinss, as the abused Nancy, in such songs as “As Long as He Needs Me.” How Nancy feels any warmth toward the foul Bill Sykes (Erik Tanck) escapes me.

Sydney Wickland has an interesting take on The Artful Dodger. She is extremely nimble, and the dancer in her makes The Artful Dodger springy and active. Sydney Wickland fires up “Consider Yourself,” one of the lively ensemble dances numbers.  

The story and production pose quite the demands to pull off. The scope of London ranges from dark, and foggy (lots of fog in this production; a bit of a bother) to a posh household. The costumes are period. The accents, British. The sound is sometimes problematic, in part because of the number and quality of wireless headsets in the production.

At the end, a bundle of energy fills the sweeping stage. On opening night, Friday, May 9, the show received a standing ovation.

Performances continue through May 17. Info: www.sheboygantheatrecompany.com.

***

Creative: Book, music and lyrics – Lionel Bart; director – Pat Payne; choreographer – Veronica Lampe; music director – Sandra Kasten; stage manager - Shari Roehl; set designer – Bernie Markovitch; sound designer – Gary Kaiser; lighting designer – Pat Smith.

Cast: Oliver Twist – Connor Martin; Nancy – Bethany Leinss; Fagin – Duncan Doherty; Bill Sykes – Erik Tanck; The Artful Dodger – Sydney Wickland; Bet – Logan Schreiber; Mr. Bumble – Lee Trotta; Widow Corney – Koral Rose Curkeet; Mr. Brownlow – Jim Johnson; Sowerberrys – Elizabeth Albeck and Maria Payant; Dr. Grimwig – Bernie Markovitch; Charlotte – Indigo Beilfuss; Charles Bates – Roberta Meyer; Noah – Misha-el Maier; Mrs. Bedwin – Indigo Beilfuss; Old Sally – Lacey Pfister. Kids Ensemble – Marcus Allison; Emma Annis; Jack Annis; Daniel Ellair; Asher Helgeson; Dustin Holmer, Amber Klobucher, Kay Lee Krieski, Iris Lor, Misha-el Maier, Abigail Meulbroek, Roberta Meyer, Christian Pena, Vanessa Phonesaythip, Andi Roehl, Hannah Shavartsman, Isaac Shvartsman, Holly Zufelt; Adult Ensemble – Debra Kelm, Indigo Beilfuss, Lacey Pfister, Steven Lee, Quinn Zwick, Jim Johnson.
Songs

Act I

“Food, Glorious Food,” Oliver, Kids

“Oliver,” Mr. Bumble, Widow Corney, Ensemble

“I Shall Scream,” Mr. Bumble, Widow Corney

“Boy for Sale,” – Mr. Bumble

“That’s Your Funeral,” the Sowerberrys, Mr. Bumble

“Where Is Love?” Oliver

“Consider Yourself,” The Artful Dodger, Oliver, Ensemble

“You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” Fagin, Kids

“It’s a Fine Life,” Nancy, Bet, Kids

“I’d Do Anything,” The Artful Dodger, Nancy, Oliver, Bet, Fagin, Kids

“Be Back Soon,” Fagin, The Artful Dodger, Kids

Act II

“Oom-Pah-Pah,” Nancy, Ensemble

“My Name,” Bill Sikes

“As Long as He Needs Me,” Nancy

“Where Is Love?” (Reprise), Mrs. Bedwin

“Who Will Buy?” – Oliver, Street Criers, Ensemble

“It’s a Fine Life” (Reprise), Bill Sikes, Nancy, Fagin, The Artful Dodger

“Reviewing the Situation,” Fagin

“Oliver!” (Reprise), Mr. Bumble, Widow Corney

“As Long as He Needs Me” (Reprise), Nancy

“Reviewing the Situation”(Reprise),” Fagin

“Food, Glorious Food” (Reprise), Company

“Consider Yourself” (Reprise), Company

“I'd Do Anything” (Reprise) Company

***

NEXT SEASON: “9 to 5 the Musical,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Sound of Music.”

THE VENUE: The 870-seat Leslie W. Johnson Theatre is a spacious facility in the shape of an amphitheater. The seats are red. The ceiling is high. The front row of seats is on the performance level, which is a half circle. A proscenium (flat front) stage area extends across the rear line of the half circle. For “Oliver!” the performance area makes full use of the space, with the orchestra occupying half the central area and changing scenes arriving and departing aboard lifts just behind the orchestra. The theater is located in Horace Mann Middle School, which was built in 1970. The aura of the lobby and theater combined is that of a community gathering place.

THE PEOPLE: Leslie W. Johnson was a Sheboygan superintendent of schools. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was a leader in the development of public education in the United States, including the teaching of teachers.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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