May 11, 2004 > Broadway West Theatre Company & Star Struck Musical Theatre present
Broadway West Theatre Company & Star Struck Musical Theatre present
Oliver! at Broadway West May 7 - June 6
by Christopher Cobb
The performance space at Broadway West in Fremont can easily be described as cozy -- so producing a show as ambitious as "Oliver!" could be misconstrued as unfeasible if not impossible. However, director Lori A. Stokes has proved that custom fitting a production does not inevitably sacrifice talent or content.
The story is a familiar one but no less entertaining for the retelling. Surely children and parents alike have heard the song "Food Glorious Food," followed by the infamous quote, "Please sir, I want some more," that initiates little orphan Oliver's odyssey. Sold to a local undertaker, the boy runs away, only to fall in with a band of young pickpockets. The ragtag bunch is schooled by the rickety Fagin, who takes a liking to the boy. But Oliver falls in the hands of the law soon enough, so the kindness of a mysterious stranger becomes his only option for salvation.
Daniel Schonhaut's Oliver is nothing less than precious. With the singing voice of an altar boy, Schonhaut handles "Where Is Love?" with gentle ease. The boy speaks like a little Michael York, and could probably pass to most as British. Exuding innocence, he pairs well with Jordan Aragorn's streetwise Artful Dodger. Their exchanges are light but believable.
Karyna Fraser's Nancy handles her surroundings like a seasoned professional. Raised on the streets, Nancy sees in Oliver the chance of escape she never had, and Fraser is able to get the audience to feel that longing pain. Nancy's show-stopping "As Long As He Needs Me" becomes more than an anthem of unrequited love - from Fraser's lips it is a sorrowful incantation of the ultimate sacrifice.
However, it is Ray Joseph's performance as the wily Fagin that steals the show. Whether among the countless cute pickpockets or the dangerous Bill Sykes, eyes invariably lead back to where he creeps. Outwardly he is delightfully over the top, but inwardly (like Fagin's introspective "Reviewing the Situation"), Joseph allows the audience to see the gears turning, a feat not easy in a role all too often bogged down with cartoonish delivery.
This is left where it is most appropriate - with Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney, the heads of the orphanage from which Oliver first appears. Played to the physical limit for laughs by Ross Arden Harkness and Belinda Maloney, they pepper the show with a lighthearted glee that counterbalances some of the shows heavier moments.
While the undertaking did require collaboration between Broadway West and Star Struck Theatre, and certain roles are double cast, this appears to only be further testament to the amount of talent involved in this show.
Charles Dickens would be proud.