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Consider Yourself Entertained

Toby's Oliver! offers bravura performances by its child actors

John Morison alternates with T.J. Langston as the title urchin.

By Courtney Hodge | Posted 6/2/2010

Oliver!

Through June 6 at Toby's Dinner Theatre

Charles Dickens' classic tale of a young orphan looking for food, shelter, and, most importantly, love comes to life in Toby's Dinner Theater's production of Oliver!. Although this show deals with several less than cheery themes, the cast offers an uplifting performance.

The show opens with several orphans hanging over a locked fence waiting for food. Themes of poverty and abandonment follow title character Oliver Twist (John Morrison) as he embarks on a journey through the rough side streets of 19th-century London. He is sold to an undertaker and ends up with a band of thieves, all while trying to make sense of a world that doesn't seem to have a place for him in it.

Based on Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, this musical is full of high-energy ensemble numbers that require a lot of space. Despite the small stage at Toby's, cast members manage to pull off these songs without a glitch as they move around the intimate performance area. Choreographer Tina Marie DeSimone's moves are intricate and exciting. "Consider Yourself," the first full company song, is full of fast-paced dancing, fancy footwork, flips, and even a wheelbarrow. DeSimone showcases her talents once again when criminal Fagin (David Bosley-Reynolds) teaches Oliver about his way of life in "Pick a Pocket or Two," while his orphans run around trying to secretly steal things out of his pockets.

Director Shawn Kettering uses every inch of the limited stage space, including the theater itself, to transport the audience to Victorian London. Scenic designer David Hopkins uses detailed partitions and backdrops to create several very different sets, from a dirty workhouse to the streets of London to a quaint estate. A couple of scenes even extend into the middle of the theater when actors walk through the aisles in order to transition sets and props onstage, putting the audience right in the middle of the action.

This production is full of talented young actors, including Zachary McKinney as the Artful Dodger and Morrison in the title role. Morrison's skills far outstrip his young age. He draws the audience into the show right from the beginning with his facial expressions alone, whether it is melancholia, fear, or excitement. When he opens his mouth, however, Morrison elevates the performance to a new level. Morrison's advanced vocal abilities really shine in songs such as "Where Is Love" or "Consider Yourself," where he delivers a remarkably powerful performance. Likewise, McKinney displays the skills of an actor far older than his age in the role of Dodger. From the moment he enters the scene, McKinney is charming and witty, while still revealing a more serious side when needed.

Maria Egler, in the role of Nancy, entertains with her strong vocals and compelling performance. Nancy has several different layers that slowly peel away as the show progress. Egler effectively conveys Nancy's complexities as she jumps from whimsical numbers such as "Oom-Pah-Pah" to more dramatic moments that disclose a darker side to her seemingly carefree life.

All the cast members fully commits to their roles in a way that makes this Oliver! enjoyable despite some useless plot points and songs. Workhouse supervisors, Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney (Andrew Horn and April Blandin, respectively) share a charming love song early on that is enjoyable to watch, but does nothing to further to plot. Similarly, "I'd Do Anything," which appears later in the show, simply showcases Morrison's charm. A show full of child actors is always risky because of their possible inexperience; Each child actor in this show, though, performs with a tremendous amount of skill and maturity that parallels that of his or her adult co-stars.

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