Theatre Review: ‘Oliver!’ at Lancaster Opera House

When I was in grade school, my music teacher liked to show videos. Musical videos. There wasn’t a large selection in his arsenal and the one that we watched over, and over, and over, and over again was “Oliver!” We watched “Oliver!” so many times that the VHS tape wore out, and then he purchased it on DVD. Lucky us. Needless to say that while in elementary school, you are forced to endure many things that you typically wouldn’t want to endure. This film was one of them. But, just like my first time seeing the film “Jesus Christ Superstar,” it wasn’t until I saw it live on stage that I enjoyed it. This goes for “Oliver!” now as well. Seeing it live is much more enjoyable, and the Lancaster Opera House’s production is phenomenal.

. . .the Lancaster Opera House’s production is phenomenal.

Based on the novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, Lionel Bart created a musical adaptation of the story in the 60’s which had very good commercial success. Oliver is a boy who lives in an orphanage, asks for some more gruel, gets sold to an undertaker, falls in line with a bunch of lovable criminals and, then gets adopted into a wealthy family. It’s that feel good story that we love to hear. He should probably audition for “American Idol” or something.

Director David Bondrow assembles a phenomenally talented cast for this very enjoyable adaptation of the show. The show uses a very minimal set, with no wings on stage, or curtains. Typically I wouldn’t find this acceptable in a show, but I see what Bondrow was doing here, and it is very impactful. It is actually brilliant. You’ll see what I mean when you purchase your tickets.

Fran Landis leads a fantastic orchestra that plays the familiar tunes perfectly. The singing and music in this show is technically perfect. The attention to detail in the score and the vocals cannot go unnoticed, and the caliber of talent that is on the stage is mind blowing. This is the perfect production. You could not ask for more in a musical, and the Opera House delivers. . .big time.

Leading the show as Oliver is Joel Fesmire, who is fantastic in this part. His performance of “Where is Love” tugs at your heartstrings and his voice is wonderful. It brings a tear to your eye to see such a young man performing with no fear on stage. I know adult actors who wish they had this courage. He plays the role of Oliver very well, and I am looking forward to seeing his career unfold in Buffalo.

Kevin Leary is fantastic as the lovable anti-hero Fagan. His mannerisms and prowess on stage are admirable for this part, and he is very entertaining with his comic delivery and slimy demeanor. “You Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two” is one of my favorite songs in the show and he surly did not disappoint in his performance.

Ian Michalski is fantastic as Mr. Bumble. Along with Rebecca J. Runge’s Widow Corney, the two have great comic chemistry on stage.

Seth Phillyaw is Artful Dodger and this kid is brilliant. As a sophomore in high school, he too shows no fear on stage and makes wonderful artistic choices. His instinct is right on the money and his performance of “Consider Yourself” is a crowd favorite.

I cannot tell you how awesome this show is, you have to go see it for yourself, and judging by the opening weekend crowd, you should get your tickets right away, because this is a show that you definitely do not want to miss.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Oliver” runs until November 18, 2018 and is presented at Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.