This classic story and musical is well produced here at the Palladium by Cameron Mackintosh. It is the second time I've seen this show, the first being nearly two years ago when it first opened and it still hasn't lost any of it's magic.
The performance of Russ Abbot who plays 'Fagin' is a dream, he was born for the part. I must admit to having reservations when I heard he had taken over the part, but I was pleasantly surprised how good he was. Sonia Swaby who plays 'Nancy' performs great as well, she has a really strong and clear voice. Steven Hartley who plays 'Bill Sikes' looked and acted the part well, but he just could not sing at all. I felt a little embarrassed for him actually. The same goes for Barry James who plays 'Mr Bumble' he too looked the part but he could not sing to save his life!
The sets are superb and very well constructed, it's great the way they change the set from one scene to the next we such ease.
Even though a couple of the the actors were not quite up to it, this show is a big theatrical event with some great songs. This quality production directed by the very talented Sam Mendes, is not to be missed.
The Oliver! experience started for me, on entering the theatre lobby. Hmm... The audience were, well... how do I put this without sounding all snotty?... not the sorts you'd meet in the foyer at the Olivier. Large quantities of loud children, grandmothers and teachers. I felt slightly out of place - for once I was the wrong side of the average age of the audience. Fortunately Oliver! is a loud musical - well louder than the audience at least.
Having once played a Bow Street Runner in my school's production of Oliver! I felt I was on the "inside" with this one - I had a unique understanding of the plot-lines and empathy with characters. I could feel Mr Sowerberry's angst and I undstood Nancy's loyalties...
Fortunately it's all much simpler. I really doubt anyone needs to give this musical political analysis. The plot is happening for you - and if some plot line isn't explained, you don't need to know.
Sam Mendes has a true Cameron Macintosh-sized production to direct and he's done his usual expert job. It's rich, well set and suitably over-acted. The score has a very polished and slightly updated sound. The big child-laden chorus numbers (at which I can ususally be found with my head between my knees) hav obviously been extensively rehearsed - no diction problems here - a fine set of children. Quite frankly, one or two of the adults could have done better. Barry James's Mr Bumble was rather a disappointment; he was too laid back for my liking - not what I'd come to expect of this fine musical actor. Similarly James Villiers (a grand old luvvie) really seemed like he couldn't care less playing one of the few caring characters, Mr Brownlow. Joe McGann should stick to television roles, rather than trying to tackle the impossible Bill Sykes. If I was responsible for restaging this classic, Sykes' "My Name!" is the first song I'd have cut and not, as it turned out, the line (literally) of the Bow Street Runner that I once played!
Jim Dale was truly excellent as Fagin - his facial expressions alone could carry the plot. Ruthie Henshall shined also, as the tightly corsetted Nancy.
The individuals are almost irrelevant - for this is a company musical and the company worked. Join in the fun, laugh without inhibition, clap aimlessley - sing along if you like - this is great night out and no mistake - there's even a sumptuous production for the theatrical die-hards to contemplate. Oliver! will be around for a while yet and justifyably so.
When I was seven years old I was lucky enough to be involved in a production of Oliver and I have loved it ever since. It was for this reason that I decided that the current show would be ideal to introduce my six year old daughter to the magic of the theatre.
I was initially disappointed by the fact that Russ Abbot had finished his run as Fagin, but my disappointment only lasted as long as it took for Robert Lindsay to pop up from a trap door on the stage. Quite simply, he was outstanding, adding his own comic touches to a part that could have been written for him. His rendition of 'Reviewing the Situation' will stay in my memory for a long time to come. Sonia Swaby gave a powerful performance as 'Nancy', Steven Hartley was mean and moody as the evil 'Bill Sikes' and Steven Geller as 'Oliver' and Scott Walker as 'Dodger' both gave performances that suggest they've got a bright future ahead of them. The only disappointment in an otherwise impressive supporting cast was Barry James as 'Mr Bumble', whose singing voice was, unfortunately, not up to the task. The sets were out of this world, and the complicated scene changes were completed without a hitch and were a joy to watch.
The real star of this show, however, has to be Lionel Bart's wonderful score. His songs sound as fresh today as they did 37 years ago, and they have a timeless, universal appeal which will ensure that this production will not be the last we see of Oliver on a West End stage.
In my humble opinion, this superb Cameron Mackintosh show is a must for young and old alike. But don't just take my word for it. The 'Original Cast Recording' has replaced the Spice Girls in my daughters CD player and you can't get a better endorsement than that.
I have to say that my feelings about this production of "Oliver" are not so very different from the other reviewers. However, I wanted to put in a special mention of the children that I saw. I have seen several amateur and professional productions of Oliver, and I think Lee Honey Jones finally hit the nail on the head in the title role. Usually, Oliver is played as a colorless waif in the Mark Lester mold, singing in a tremulous boy soprano voice. This belies the script. He is the one who memorably asks for more of that not so glorious food, fights back when Noah Claypoole insults his mother, and generally gives as good as he gets. Instead of being played as a pint-sized Candide, wandering blithely through life, this Oliver is one spunky, resourceful, and resilient kid. Honey Jones plays and sings him as such, and he's still cute as a button. Bronson Webb also excelled as the Artful Dodger. The songs seemed a bit low for him at times, but this 14 year old is already quite a performer with boundless energy and charm.
Sure, the scenery is often too much and the performers (particularly a still-enjoyable Robert Lindsay) chew the scenery mercilessly. This is one fun evening, showing once more that Lionel Bart is still one of the cleverest lyricists around. I've never been a fan of the way the musical whitewashes the slum conditions of Victorian London, or makes Fagin seem a benevolent if misguided caretaker of the orphaned boys. But, hey, its a musical. A thoroughly enjoyable family musical from the tightly choreographed and well-executed opening number, to the curtain call, complete with a boos and hisses from the audience as Stephen Hartley gave his sneering bow as Bill Sikes. Only then did he break into smile. If you go, you will be smiling from the very beginning.
(Nancy A Phillips
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