Some more, please

California Regional Theater’s musical of Dickens classic looks, sounds and feels great

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California Regional Theater presents Oliver! The Musical, Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. & Sun., 2 p.m., through Dec. 9, CUSD’s Center for the Arts.
Tickets: $20 ($25 at door), at or by calling (800) 722-4522

Center for the Arts
1475 East Ave. (on the Pleasant Valley High School campus)
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You might think that watching a musical detailing the sad life of a young orphan as he is sold from a mid-18th-century English workhouse to a funeral home before landing on the street and joining up with a pickpocket ring might not be the type of feel-good entertainment you are looking for during the Holiday season.

But you would be wrong.

California Regional Theater’s musical version of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist—while full of merciless villains, harrowing escapes, and other highly emotional “twists” of fate (which my 10-year-old son watched riveted and wide-eyed throughout)—is the perfect performance to enjoy in a season that asks us to consider being thankful for what we have and who we love. I left the theater inspired and uplifted (and humming many of the tunes from the night). And did I mention there was a live orchestra?

Oliver! The Musical follows the story of young Oliver Twist (a glowing Zane Brown), orphaned within his first breaths when his mother collapsed and died during his birth. Now a tween, he is confined to toil in a workhouse with only gruel for sustenance. Cue a dozen fellow workhouse orphans belting out “Food, Glorious Food” while jumping, twisting and balancing on tables in the first of many amazing numbers by choreographer Kate Reeves.

Oliver then makes the unforgivable mistake to say, “Please, sir, I want some … more.” This enrages Mr. Bumble, the reprehensible and, well, bumbling head of the workhouse (played by Chris Thompson), and he and Widow Corney (a delightful and sassy Diana Leadbeater) proceed to enlighten Oliver on all of the horrible punishments in store.

Instead, Mr. Bumble decides to sell young Oliver to the stooped undertaker Mr. Sowerberry (Liam Selby, in a show-stealing performance) to work as a “coffin follower” to give (gasp!) authenticity to the funerals of children. The undertaker and his wife (a powerfully voiced Mel Presson) tease both Oliver and Mr. Bumble with the haunting “That’s Your Funeral,” which was one of my favorite numbers of the evening (and there were many).

I won’t spoil the rest of the story for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading Dickens’ classic. I will say that, after Oliver spends time with the street-wise Artful Dodger (Makayla Thompson) and Fagin, the boss of the pickpockets (played sensationally by Roy Staring), and some truly nail-biting experiences (including the death of a major character), all ends well.

Notable performances in Act Two include the emotionally charged “As Long as He Needs Me,” sung by the incredible Megan Schwartz as Nancy; a frightening rendition of “My Name” by Brandon Kingsley as the psychotic Bill Sykes; a moving “Where is Love?” sung by the young Oliver, which brought a true tear to my eye; and Fagin’s final number, “Reviewing the Situation,” which captivated the entire audience.

The live orchestra, directed and conducted by Jim White, provided a three-dimensional quality to director Bob Maness and company’s already awe-inspiring production. And kudos to Christopher Burkhardt and crew for the beautiful set construction, allowing cast members to climb, jump and hide on bridges, balconies and even coffins. If you haven’t yet treated yourself to a production by the relatively new California Regional Theater company (and staged in the beautiful new CUSD Center for the Arts on the Pleasant Valley High School campus), this might be the time to go, as proceeds from the performances benefit Families for Children Adoption & Foster Care Agency.