This was printed in The Davis Enterprise on 11/14/06
The thing that you have to admire about the Davis Musical Theater Company, which opened a production of "Oliver!" this weekend, is that everyone is so sincere and so dedicated. The new fountain in the lobby displays a panel of big money donors, with another panel to be installed soon. The walls of the theater are lined with ceramic tiles,"decorated by individuals supporters. A long-time subscriber who has been watching from the audience for years finally decided to get his feet wet in this production.
Company members work long, hard hours, whether on stage or behind the stage. Love for DMTC is evident everywhere.
Unfortunately, sometimes love just isn’t enough.
When you see a production of a beloved musical such as Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” and the outstanding performer is Mr. Bumble (Brian McCann), the pompous, self-important beadle (minor church official) for the workhouse where Oliver was born, there is a serious problem.
McCann is almost equally matched by the voluptuous Monique McKisson as Mrs. Corney, the matron of the workhouse who lets Mr. Bumble worm his way into her middle-aged heart. Their scene together, ending with “I shall scream” was outstanding, and truly the highlight of the evening.
The production is directed and choreographed by Jan Isaacson, who needs to remember that sometimes less is more. The opening number, “Food, Glorious Food” featuring the orphan chorus waiting for their morning gruel, was so busy that you lost sight of what the song lyrics were. Every phrase had a corresponding action which, after awhile, began to look like a game of charades where the participants forgot they weren’t supposed to be speaking. This style, unfortunately, was repeated in most of the chorus numbers throughout the show.
Isaacson has done much better than this in previous shows and her choreography and blocking for this production were a disappointing surprise.
Blake Thomas was a winsome Oliver. While he lacks the oomph to really do a first class rendition of a song like “Where is Love?” he is so perfectly visually cast and is such a competent performer, that it didn’t seem to matter.
Steve Isaacson is reprising his all-time favorite role, Fagin, the manipulative old man who leads a group of homeless children and teaches them how to pick pockets and steal to survive. Isaacson is good, but not outstanding. His performance seems to lack the energy we’ve come to expect from him.
Jennifer Bonomo, as Nancy, the girlfriend of the villainous Bill Sikes (not Sykes, a common spelling error) who ultimately becomes Oliver’s protector, at her own peril, does a good job. She has a strong voice and is appropriately emotionally torn in the lovely “As long as he needs me,” where she describes why she remains with an abusive partner.
Two young girls in the chorus, Laura Sitts as the rose seller and Karina Summers as the milk seller have lovely voices and stand out, in their small roles, among the peddlers walking the streets.
Michael Elfant makes the most of his small role as Dr. Grimwig, called to Oliver’s bedside after he is rescued from the streets by his benefactor, Mr. Brownlow (Arnold Loveridge).
Danette Vassar, in a larger role than I have seen her in the past, does quite a good job as Mrs. Sowerberry, wife of the undertaker. (Vassar and McKisson switch roles in other performances, McKisson playing Mrs. Sowerberry and Vassar playing the Widow Corney.)
Others in the cast fall short of the mark, at the show’s detriment.
Steve Isaacson designed the set, which mostly works except for a projection on the back wall, meant to represent London. While such projections worked exceptionally well to represent a New York tenement in the recent “West Side Story,” this projection sticks out like a sore thumb because it is not only distractingly inaccurate as far as being anywhere near done to scale (Big Ben sitting right next to the dome of St. Paul’s with some sort of a pillar rising up between the two of them--we never did figure out what that was supposed to be), but it leaves most of the back wall totally blank. Also, with the cast constantly passing back and forth over the elevated bridge at the back, they had to walk right in front of the beam of light, so that the city of London was projected on the actors themselves. It would have been far better to eliminate the projection entirely.
I have a soft spot in my heart for “Oliver!” and was disappointed that this one just lacked that certain “something” to make it all work.