A pitiful orphan boy is locked in a coffin, forced to join a band of pickpockets, and is kidnapped from his new home by an infamous criminal. These tragedies are carried out through the touching ballads and catchy dance numbers of “Oliver!” The talented performers at Woodrow Wilson High School dusted off this classic show, and lent it a new energy with their enthusiastic performance.
“Oliver!” is a musical based on Charles Dickens’ famous novel, “Oliver Twist,” with script, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. It premiered in London’s West End in 1960, and from that successful run, enjoyed a Broadway production which opened in 1963 and a 1968 film by the same name. “Oliver!” follows the woeful tale of an orphan boy who ends up living with a band of pickpockets under the leadership and tutelage of a man named Fagin. He meets Nancy, the girlfriend of the terrifying Bill Sykes, an infamous criminal involved with Fagin’s team, and the two bond quickly. When Oliver is arrested and ends up living with a man from whom he stole, trouble ensues as Sykes becomes worried that Oliver will expose his and Fagin’s group.
Woodrow Wilson’s skillful stage crew facilitated the many seamless set changes in the production. They efficiently and quietly switched and rotated the many large set pieces that allowed for the portrayal of the Three Cripples bar, Fagin’s lair, the London Bridge, and the factory in which Oliver worked. Their swift transitions advanced the plot effectively.
The lead actors from Woodrow Wilson demonstrated noticeable talent as both actors and vocalists. Alexander Carroll-Cabanes’ portrayal of the title character of Oliver capably exhibited his obvious skill and hard work. Although some performers experienced diction problems while performing their cockney accents, Carroll-Cabanes’ accent was clear yet accurate, and his impressive tenor allowed for an excellent performance. Maggie Roos exhibited powerful stage presence and impeccable range as both an actress and vocalist, allowing her to portray Nancy’s many facets. She joked and laughed in the lighthearted “I’d Do Anything,” a silly imitation of English aristocrats and belted powerfully, dancing on tables, in “Oom Pah Pah.” Perhaps Roos’ most impressive performance, the pain in her strong, clear voice drawing the audience’s sympathy, was her absolute commitment to her struggle to endure Sykes’ abuse as she poignantly rendered “As Long as He Needs Me.”
Woodrow Wilson’s wealth of comic actors provided the relief in this tragic story. The morbid undertakers Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (Joe Haberman and Abby Melick) demonstrated excellent chemistry and bold vocal and physical choices in the hilarious “That’s Your Funeral.” Still, what truly drove the show was the ragtag group of orphans-turned-pickpockets under the guidance of the eccentric Fagin (David Peck). While Peck himself exhibited a comic, yet strikingly honest performance of “Reviewing the Situation,” the large dance number of his ensemble was one of the most engaging moments of the show-- scampering about the stage, demonstrating to Oliver the proper techniques for petty theft in “Pick a Pocket or Two.”
With a large cast, difficult music, and intricate dance numbers, “Oliver!” was an ambitious choice. Nevertheless, the performers at Woodrow Wilson High School exhibited clear talent and hours of effort in a spirited performance of this classic Dickens tale.