Last week, I saw on Facebook that Lori had taken her niece to see Oliver! and I immediately pounced on her and essentially demanded a "WFT Alum" review. Lucky me, (and lucky you!) she obliged. Read on!
Last night, I brought my (almost) 12 year old niece, Emmalee, and my mother to see Oliver! at WFT and our discussions about the amazing voices of the cast and the interpretation of nineteenth century social issues belted out in song lasted from intermission until we arrived home two hours after the performance.
Wheelock Family Theatre is a place where, many years ago, I grew from a sheltered teenager just entering college to a confident young woman as I learned to build sets, run a sound board, hang and focus lights, iron costumes, fulfill ticket orders manually and work backstage during performances, all right beside WFT’s caring staff. I fell in love with theatre, with the way Wheelock’s theatre felt like a home away from home. And with the three generations of us together in the audience this time, I only had to sit back, relax and enjoy the show, the place felt much the same.
While there is much cruelty and grit in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, here that was reflected very adeptly in Matt Lazure’s multi-layered grey-toned set design. Under Sue Kosoff’s direction, the cast brought to life the desperation of 1850s London, especially as we heard Charlie Clinton’s (Oliver) melancholy rendition of “Where is Love?” As they have done for over thirty years, WFT finds amazingly talented children to steal the show.
Oliver! is definitely a musical adaptation and the energy in the performances shined through the tough accent and vocabulary of Dickens’ day. In case you’ve forgotten the original material, though, this is not only about an orphan who is used by the adults in his world but a social commentary including women’s rights and abusive relationships. With a tween by my side, I leaned over a few times to make sure she was following, knowing that I would come back to this on the way home to start a discussion about respecting oneself and finding help out there in the big world. The colorful costumes, fluid stage direction and spot-on performances moved the audience past the desperation to a hope for the future.
My mother remarked later that the play was wonderful and she really loved watching Emmalee and me interact -- dissecting the characters’ motivations, voting for our favorite voice (her vote- Charlie Clinton as Oliver, as they’re both in 6th grade; my vote- Brittany Rolfs nailed it as Nancy) and my little notes about how I used to be one of those black-clad stagehands moving set pieces around or running the sound board. WFT- you’ve dazzled us again and I am so proud to be a part of the family.