Wednesday, April 04, 2007


“Consider yourself one of the family” is more than a song lyric in The Woodland Opera House production of Lionel Bart’s classic musical “Oliver!” Several families have more than one member participating on or off stage ... the Stapp family alone has four members on stage, Samuel in the title role, his father Curtis as Oliver’s grandfather, Mr. Brownlow, and sisters Julia and Rachel in the ensemble (Julia also plays the milkmaid in the “Who will buy” number).

“Oliver!” is part of the opera house’s Theater for Families series, and they obviously take that title seriously.

Angela Shellhammer, Education Director for The Woodland Opera House, has directed this sprightly paced, delightful musical and, with Eva Sarry, has choreographed numbers with the professional precision.

The opening chorus, with the orphans entering the dining hall of the workhouse from some basement enclosure gives a hint of the quality to come. The kids have been drilled to a fare thee well, sing well and impress with their dancing.

Eight year old Samuel Stapp was the opening night Oliver, the orphan whose mother dies in childbirth, leaving him a ward of the state. He shares the role with Davis fourth-grader Devon Hayakawa, in her first role at WOH. Samuel is an absolute delight. He is the perfect age for the role, he is a good actor, sings well and hits all the right notes, especially when he sits huddled under a blanket on the floor of Mr. Sowerberry’s (Micail W. Buse) funeral parlor, to which he has just been sold by the workhouse beadle, Mr. Bumble (David Wilkinson) and wistfully sings “Where is Love?”

Emily Delk is delightful as the Widow Corney, the matron of the workhouse, who is sweet talked by Bumble. Their duet, “I shall scream” was funny, though her bouncing up and down on Bumble’s knee should elicit a bit more reaction from him.

Fagin, the seemingly good-hearted leader of a band of youthful pickpockets is given a very good, if not outstanding, performance by Jes Gonzales.

The talented Casey Camacho, who appears slightly older than the usual Artful Dodger, nevertheless brings a cocky assurance to the role of Fagin’s right hand boy, who introduces Oliver to the group. He is a good actor who moves well on stage and has a strong singing voice.

Simply stunning is the Nancy of Katie Ichtertz. She has a voice as rich as melted chocolate and her plaintive “As Long as He Needs Me” will break your heart. Ichtertz is only 19 years old and should have a long successful theatrical career ahead of her.

Jason Hammond infuses the character of Bill Sikes with the proper black soul and is the bad guy you love to hate.

Others in the cast worthy of note are Carver Simmons as Noah Claypool, employee of the funeral parlor, and Micaela Zambrano as his girlfriend Charlotte. Micail W. Buse is appropriately sepulchral as the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry, while his wife (Lynnette Blaney) is nicely overbearing. Kara Sheldon has the small role of Bet, Nancy’s young sidekick, and handles it well.

“Oliver!” like “Fiddler on the Roof” is one of those stories that you forget has a black side to it. Act 1 is much more fun than Act 2, which always appears to be one long series of tragedies after another. Shellhammer’s otherwise excellent direction fails her in the final scenes, where Oliver’s life is threatened by Sikes. The set (designed by Jeff Kean) is such that Oliver could easily escape Sikes’ clutches by running up stairs to the overhead bridge, though he stands still, as if waiting to be snatched by the villain.

The 9 piece orchestra, under the direction of Dan Pool does a serviceable job, though there were some difficulties with some of the horn passages.

Shellhammer and her cast have given us a better than average production of this Dickens classic, which should nicely fill the bill for family entertainment, especially since the good guys come out OK in the end.

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