The latest offering from Barbirra Music Theatre is the ever popular Oliver!. Lionel Bart was responsible for the script, lyrics and music of the show. It’s based on the novel Oliver! Twist by Charles Dickens and had its world premiere in the West End in 1960. Most of us became familiar with the show via the extremely successful movie production, released in 1968.
Oliver! is one of my favourite shows. It’s a show that, alongside Annie, most children from my era grew up watching. While children are a major part of the cast, I would still not call it a ‘kids show’. The themes and events that occur in Oliver! are dark and complex, even though at times the numbers counterpoint this with their frivolity.
Barbirra Music Theatre’s production does not shy away from the darker side of the musical, which is most evident in the set and lighting design. The sets are beautifully crafted and bear more than a slight Tim Burton edge to them. They moved easily around the stage and have been painted by a true scenic artist. I congratulate Andrew Plant for his work and that of the backstage crew who moved the set effortlessly around the stage. The costumes were typical for an Oliver! production, correct for the period and well made. I would have liked to see the costumes pick up more influences from set which would have added more to the overall ‘darkness’ of the piece. For an opening night, the sound was mostly clear and well balanced. There was an odd occasion where vocal lines were lost, but I felt this was more to the lack of singers on stage than the sound design.
On the whole, director Sue Salvato has assembled an extremely talented cast. When casting children you never really know how they are going to perform in front of a live audience. I’m very happy to say that after the first few seconds of singing and dancing from the children, it was clear that there would be no problems. The children sang strongly, maintaining clear harmony lines and executed quite complex and energetic choreography simultaneously. The same can also be said for the adult chorus: for the most part, vocal lines were clear and well sung. There were odd points where volume was an issue, but purely from lack of people (men mostly) on stage. I would like to point out some amazing young talent in the ‘adult’ ensemble. Mitchell Chapman, a year 9 student, lit up the stage with his dancing and characterisation as the clown in ‘Who Will Buy’. Millie Leaver and Margaret Tanjutco who were soloists in ‘Who Will Buy’ were amazing. Both have extremely clear and classical soprano voices. I was shocked to see that Leaver was only 15, so keep an eye out for her in the future!
Jordie Race-Coldrey played a very endearing Oliver, but wasn’t too soppy. Race-Coldrey showed spunk when it was needed but was able to soften to the likeable boy that Oliver! needs to be. The Artful Dodger was played by Ryland Lack-Powell. He handled the challenging role well, was funny, energetic and an excellent contrast to Race-Coldrey’s Oliver. Victoria Zainal was a burst of energy on stage and although she played a highly characterised Widow Corney, she was always believable and focused. She must be congratulated for an amazing piece of improvisation when after kicking over a prop cat on stage and getting her dress caught up, she simply called out “oh my puss” a la Mrs. Betty Slocombe from Are You Being Served? The audience was in hysterics for a good few minutes.
There are two prized musical theatre roles in Oliver!: Nancy and Fagin. Nancy was masterfully handled by Rosa McCarty. Vocally she was PERFECT: her tone, pitch and belt were what you want from a Nancy. I would have liked her to have had more direct audience communication in “As Long As He Needs Me”, as I felt she was wandering the stage a little. She has the vocal and acting talent to hold the audience with a stand and sing, so why complicate matters with busy movement? Peter Roberts played Fagin with great charm and sincerity. When reading the program, I was not surprised to see that Roberts is a primary school teacher, as his Fagin felt genuinely caring and conflicted with the world he was living in. Matt Hillman as Bill Sykes was clever with characterisation and I loved how he almost whispered parts of his song.
As you can tell by this very long review, I really enjoyed the interesting and masterful performances in Barbirra Music Theatre’s Oliver!. The whole production team should be very happy with this production and their obvious hard work. The season is sold out, but if you do manage to find a ticket, I do encourage you to get along and see this show.