Oliver! - 2018

Oliver! - 2018

Lionel Bart’s Oliver is without doubt one of the most popular (large cast) bits of Musical Theatre available to societies; and what a gift. In the right hands this show is a great fun singalong show that is so well known it is in all our psyches. Dickens draws his characters so beautifully and so completely, Bart recognised that and created an all-time classic; Oliver.

This show is a wonderful gift for the right society and the verdict is Shrewsbury Amateur Operatic Society did us all proud. It was remarkable to see just how much talent there is in Shrewsbury and its surrounds and it was a pleasure to be entertained by them.

What Lionel Bart managed was to maintain the gravity of the times and Dickens social commentary but added just a little wit and took the novel out of the dark (have you read the original?) and into the light, and then shared the great story with all of us. Shame Bart was destroyed by his own addictions: Almost a Dickensian end in itself. However Bart’s sad demise notwithstanding he left a legacy that musical theatre will enjoy for decades to come.

In this performance so many performers played their hearts out, too many to mention, but this reviewer didn’t see anyone on the stage that shouldn’t have been there. Fom the opening note to the last crotchet everyone gave their all and the score was sung danced and played sublimely . All involved brought their top games to the stage.

So to review a show like Oliver and ignore the eponymous boy and mention how skilfully he was played, would be just wrong; so tonight saw young Morgan Lewis in the role. Aged just Thirteen he carried his part on the broad shoulders of a true pro. With a great singing voice, still boy soprano his singing is marvellous, he is a very promising mover and a great little actor. Delightful to see him make such a fist of the part. The same goes for Kai Davies as Dodger, both boys know the weight of their responsibility and rose to the challenge admirably.

Dickens’ parts are dream parts for actors. His characters are three dimensional and whole and that has to be maintained or the show won’t work.  Kai’s handling of Dodger’s artfulness and swagger was wonderful and such a clever dancer too. If these boys don’t go on to a performing career, one hopes SAOS keeps a hold of them and we can all watch them grow and mature. Excellent.

Fagin, (what a vile man,) but of course it was Ron Moody who injected a little humour into the character initially in the film, that has been maintained in this performance. He is a complex balance of good and bad, strength and weakness, cowardice and bravery and Chris Smith’s Fagin was a stunning performance. The complex balance was there and we loved and hated him in equal measure. Never being one to single anybody out, I will break with tradition. Chris needs a special mention for his portrayal; I am sure his colleagues are delighted to have him along.

Heroics from a bruising Bill Sykes as Bullseye decided he didn’t fancy entering down steps and Matt Bispham’s well observed improvisation saved a tricky situation. He scooped up Bullseye, played by Muttley, and carried him on. The audience loved it. Muttley was a star.

It was a night for stars as the principals took on the big solo numbers. Nancy’s evocative song “As long as he needs me,” was so powerful and strong it breathes a freshness into a much sung song. Deborah Owen who gave us Nancy has a strong, powerful and perfectly controlled voice. Known in the biz as a big voice, Deborah found the power from her very boots and had spines tingling with her rendition.

For comedy the relationship between Bumble, Kevin Sudlow and Widow Corney, Lucy Hagen, was great. Their timing immaculate and their singing spot on. Maybe a little more spirit gum on the sideburns for Mr Bumble was needed. Maybe they could afford to even lose the sideburns? It doesn’t matter they were hilarious yet cynical and mean at the same time, another fine balance and they both nailed it!

I look forward very much to watching Bet, (Libby Ashford,) in a starring role. that girl has a voice all singers would die for and one hopes it gets employed more in the future. She had enough power to blow the hats off any daft enough to be wearing one indoors. One’s advice would be go for it and let no-one stand in your way Libby!

It was all so much fun, there seems to be a spiritual happiness in the cast. They clearly are enjoying themselves, as they should, it heightens the experience for the audience and lifts flagging souls in an eternal Winter in Shrewsbury.

There is nothing quite like live musical backing. This cast find themselves lucky enough to be backed by an extremely good and full orchestra pit. Music is better felt and heard rather than just heard. A live orchestra is a treat on the ear and for the show.

Where would this show be without their Street urchins? The large troop of 6 to 12 year olds were both amazing and talented. To find so many great young performers is a boon for any society. The artists of tomorrow where there tonight; giving it their all with their smudged faces and dedication, following every direction faultlessly. Well done gang you made this reviewer smile.

The songs are so catchy I defy any audience member not to go home tum-te-tumming something from the show. People were whistling the tunes, humming them and even singing them in the lift. It’s a contagious show for which there is fortunately no remedy. One just has to go with it. I know who I shall blame for the next few days’ ear worms.

This is a top show, a top cast, directionally, technically and artistically this is such a fine show. Go and see it it’s on for the next few nights and it is a great night out. Keep your eye on your jacket though, apparently “They gotta pick a pocket or two!”

This is a Four Star review.

Owen J.Lewis (loveshrewsbury.com)