The musical based on a classic Charles Dickens novel pouring from the Laurel Mill Playhouse this holiday season is not a Christmas story. But the spirits of Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim Cratchit may be watching enthralled from the rafters as the little theater brings an earlier Dickens novel to life in a dazzling community theater performance of “Oliver!”
With music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, the stage musical — adapted from Dickens’ s 1837 “Oliver Twist” — opened in London in 1960 with an outstanding musical score (including popular songs such as “As Long As He Needs Me,” “Consider Yourself” and “Oom-Pah-Pah”) that earned a Tony for Best Original score in 1963, the same year “Oliver!” began its Broadway run in the U.S.
Five years later, the British musical film adaptation snagged six Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Directed here by John Cusumano with wonderful musical direction by Mimi McGinniss and choreography by Miranda Snyder, the intimate Playhouse stage accommodates the show’s gripping solo and upbeat ensemble numbers well.
And though the black set designed and built by Cusumano and assistant director Rick Bergmann appears primarily aimed at dance choreography during the charming opening number, “Food, Glorious Food,” form does follow function well as a second level tucked behind black stage curtains — revealed upstage when scenes change —adds surprising depth and visual appeal in sync with Bergmann and Jen Sizer’s sound and light design.
Seemly Victorian period costumes designed by Marge McGugan and hair and makeup design are also nicely executed.
Cusumano’s diverse and talented cast of thespians includes: Kelvin Dukes as Oliver, Cusumano as Mr. Bumble, Malarie Zeeks as Mrs. Corney, Anwar Al-Mallah as Mr. Sowerberry, Marcie Prince as Mrs. Sowerberry, Kaylee Bloom as Charlotte, Gus Martone as Noah Claypole,
Shayna Bloom as Artful Dodger, Curt Somers as Fagin, Delaney McGinniss as Charley Bates, Kevin A. Wilson as Bill Sikes, Hernandez-Fujigaki as Nancy, Samantha Roberts as Beth, Hugh Downey as Mr. Brownlow, Brittany Ransbottom as Mrs. Bedwin and Lenny Dinerman as Dr. Grimwig.
Appearing as the Orphans and Fagin’s Gang are Shayna and Kaylee Bloom, Joy Bowen, Alexana and Samuel Bredland, Kiya English, Jonah Hale, Delaney McGinniss, Jaci Molina, Molly Ross, Gabbie Swinton and Aeris Tepper.
And Andi Bigalow, Dinerman, Downey, Raven T. Hall, Marge McGugan, Prince and Brittanny Ransbottom make an agile Ensemble.
The story of the pubescent Oliver Twist’s dangerous search for love and family takes the audience on a ride that begins at a London workhouse (where Oliver was born an orphan) through the criminal underworld to his final familial destination.
The journey is dark, exciting and notably full of excellent vocals and fine character performances by every cast member.
The show has many intense moments (a death scene played by Wilson and Hernandez-Fujigaki is a standout), but lively music scores and many moments of lovely comic relief keep the production upbeat.
Dukes as Oliver appears as the lights rise, but the waif’s show-stopping solo, “Where Is Love,” reveals the young actor’s excellent singing voice a few songs into act 1.
Cusumano and Zeeks are also delightful as Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney, both in their acting and with strong vocals throughout, but particularly in their performance of “I Shall Scream.”
As are Al-Mallah and Prince as the undertaker and his wife in “That’s Your Funeral.” As Mrs. Sowerberry, Prince’s energy stands out.
Shayna Bloom, who crosses genders to portray the Artful Dodger, does a wonderful job of bringing her male character to the stage; it’s a surprise when she takes off her hat during curtain call to reveal a long pony tail. And when she leads the popular “Consider Yourself,” the audience hums along.
Curt Somers as the petty villain Fagin sings “Reviewing Your Situation” well. He and his adorable gang of child thieves create a foil to the real cutthroat, Bill Sikes.
As Sikes, Wilson is suitably terrifying. He creates excellent chemistry with Hernandez-Fujigaki (whose bruises look eerily real) as his abused common wife, Nancy.
Hernandez-Fujigaki delivers an outstanding performance as the tart with a heart suffering from the abused woman syndrome who sacrifices all for Oliver. Her performances of “As Long As He Needs Me” are stellar.
Downey as Mr. Brownlow also delivers a fine performance.
“Oliver!” continues through Sunday, Dec. 16, Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m.; and matinee performances Dec. 9 and Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. General admission is $22; students 12 and under and seniors 65 and over, $17. For tickets, go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.