oliver

The cast of Trinity Rep's production of 'Oliver!' (Photo by Mark Turek)

PROVIDENCE - There are some musical scores that have one or two memorable songs - "Cats," for instance - and others that have so many great songs that it's hard to pick a favorite.

"Oliver!," being staged by Trinity Repertory Company through the end of March, falls into the latter category. Whether it's "Food, Glorious Food," "Consider Yourself," "I'd Do Anything," or the title track, there are numerous catchy, feel-good songs - as well as some emotional ballads, like "Where Is Love?" - that most theater buffs know by heart.

There are many nuances to this story, which at times is dark and rife with violence and at other times hopeful and full of life. Striking a balance is not an easy task, but this production does it well.

The simple and realistically bleak set in the intimate Chace Theater is a perfect backdrop for this production, based on the Charles Dickens' classic novel "Oliver Twist," as adapted by Lionel Bart in the 1960 musical.

"Oliver!" tells the story of an orphaned boy in 1830s London who falls in with a group of young street thieves led by the devious Fagin, who pretends to care about the children but in truth is exploiting them for his own financial gain.

Trinity Rep veteran actor Stephen Berenson is a superb Fagin. Yes, he's a crook and a scoundrel, but there's a vulnerability to his character that is somewhat endearing - and even amusing at times.

The tight cast includes only nine adults and nine children - plus an awesome band on a riser at the back of the stage whose full sound made it seem like there were many more than four or five musicians at work. From where I was sitting at Sunday night's performance, there wasn't a weak link in the cast.

Phineas Peters - who played Tiny Tim in Trinity Rep's "A Christmas Carol" the past few seasons - was spot on as the young and naïve Oliver. The 10-year-old can act, dance and sing, and was able to pull off some of the more difficult songs, like "Where Is Love" (in all of its high-note glory), with aplomb.

Speaking of triple threats, Noah Parets, 14, of Sharon, was amazing as the jaunty Artful Dodger, Fagin's young ringleader. During the song "Consider Yourself," where he takes Oliver under his wing to introduce him to the life of a pickpocket, Parets' acting, singing and dancing skills are showcased in spectacular fashion. Parets was most recently seen in the title role of the national touring production of "Billy Elliot."

The show features the highly anticipated return of former Trinity Rep artistic director and Academy Award-nominated actor Richard Jenkins as director of the production and his wife Sharon Jenkins as choreographer.

The latter did a great job of utilizing Parets' dancing skills - and those of other cast members - in "Consider Yourself," and several other numbers. The choreography throughout the show was impressive.

Other cast standouts include Rachael Warren as Nancy, the kindhearted but downtrodden and abused woman who looks out for Oliver and sings the beautiful lament "As Long as He Needs Me"; and Timothy John Smith as the strapping, callous Bill Sikes, who gave a commanding performance as a terrifying and menacing brute. The squabbling between Tom Gleadow (as Mr. Bumble) and Anne Scurria (as Mrs. Corney) elicited quite a few chuckles from the audience, and Whitney White, who played Charlotte, sang a beautiful rendition of the beguiling "Who Will Buy?"

The stage lighting provided just the right atmosphere for the bleak London backdrop, and the period costumes of both the orphans and the well-heeled society members added another realistic element to this wonderful production.

While it doesn't sugarcoat life in the gritty underbelly of early 19th-century London, this production takes audience members on a musical journey that is difficult at times, but is also full of hope and promise - and some really great songs.

***

"Oliver!" is being performed in Trinity Rep's Chace Theater, 201 Washington St., Providence, through March 30. Tickets start at $46. For tickets or more information, visit www.trinityrep.com or call 401-351-4242. The production is recommended for those in middle school and older, as there is a fair amount of violence, as well as adult humor and situations.

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