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Woodland Opera House Theatre340 Second St.
Woodland, CA 95695
Big, big, big! That’s Woodland Opera House’s production of Oliver!, which features more kids and adults, more Victorian costumes, more pasted-on sideburns, and more English accents (credit dialogue coach Jim Lane) than you’ll find in most other shows this year. We’re talking about a cast and crew of more than 60, working sets invoking London circa 1850: a dreary orphanage, a funeral parlor, a thieves’ den, a gin mill, a wholesome family home and a foggy midnight on London Bridge.
We should say a word about the music and lyrics by the late Lionel Bart. Though based on Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, this show was never intended as a faithful adaptation. At the London premiere in 1960, Bart blurted “May the good Dickens forgive us!” when taking his bow.
Oliver! is a musical first and literature second—or third. It’s an English show owing more to Noel Coward (a friend of Bart’s) than to Elvis, and more rooted in British music halls than Broadway. It’s quite different from the pop-rock extravaganzas that Andrew Lloyd Webber would start writing a few years later.
Oliver! was a monster hit in the early ’60s. The 1968 film racked up several Oscars, but the show’s popularity gradually has faded. Locally, the Music Circus staged it thrice in the ’70s, twice in the ’80s, once in the ’90s … and hasn’t done it since.
The thing that jumps out at you in this conventionally told community production is how much zip remains in Bart’s songs. This reviewer hadn’t heard them in years, but the melodies and lyrics came flooding back: “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “Who Will Buy?” and so on. The Woodland cast sings them well, and the show feels shorter than its two-and-a-half hours.
In the major roles, Sacramento Shakespeare Festival regular Jes Gonzales plays the devious, charming Fagin with a knowing smile. Katie Ichtertz brings backbone to Nancy, the lower-class woman who loves (but ultimately tries to block) the irredeemably violent Bill Sykes, played with tangible menace by beefy Jason Hammond. The title role is shared by Devon Hayakawa and Samuel Stapp—we saw Hayakawa, who performs with elfin charm.
Dan Pool leads the nine-piece band and keeps your toe tapping. Director and choreographer Angela Shellhammer doesn’t dig for surprises, but she does remind you of this musical’s main virtue: its songs.