Nov 17, 2019
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Is there anyone whose holiday heart won’t be warmed by Charles Dickens’ classic tale of young Oliver, the orphan boy who endures many trials before finding his true home? 6th Street Playhouse creates a bold and richly entertaining staging, with innovative elements and two actors rotating in the title role. Featuring excellent principal performances and an energetic ensemble, this is a production not to miss this season.
Orphaned Oliver (played by talented young performers Cecilia Brenner and Gus Jordan in alternation) languishes in the workhouse, where asking for a bit more food gets him sold to a punishing undertaker and his ruthless wife (Dwayne Stincelli and Maureen O’Neill). He escapes and makes his way to London, where poverty and crime abound. Befriended by The Artful Dodger (Mario Herrera), he joins a gang of youthful pickpockets ruled by sly but sort of lovable Fagin (David Yen).
In Fagin’s den he enjoys meeting prostitutes-with-hearts-of-gold Nancy (Brittany Law) and Bet (Madison Lewis), but fatefully crosses paths with Nancy’s boyfriend, arch criminal Bill Sikes (Zachary Hasbany). The plot thickens as Oliver is lost, then found, then lost again, then in mortal danger, then… you get the picture. It’s not pretty, but it is, after all, Dickensian; and it’s musical theatre, so it’s bound to work out for the best.
The cast, both principals and ensemble, is terrific, including a fantastic group of young actors, and supremely talented adults most of whom play many different roles. Brittany Law stands out as a fabulous Nancy, with strong vocals and dance moves. She’s a true triple threat, and her delivery of “As Long As He Needs Me” shows off her acting skills in a powerful rendition of sentiment that’s a hard sell in this day and age.
Law is well-matched by cast mates Yen and Hasbany— Yen flirts with evil but we can see he’s a pussycat at heart, making his ultimate transition believable; Hasbany embodies the purest evil, a dark presence that threatens the entire world he inhabits, and does so with nicely understated movement and snarling. Herrera also deserves kudos for a wonderful Dodger, made a delightful character by his skillful flair.
The rest of the actors are equally enjoyable to watch, fun to spot in their multiple incarnations. Quite a few switch gender as well as characters— one can imagine the backstage race to don new costumes and beards.
The gender-bending aspect of the production sometimes works well, and in others is distracting and oddly humorous, for no apparent benefit to the overall show. There are also times when youth performers are in modern dress, without explanation or obvious reason. Audience members are seated onstage to either side of the main performance area, again without clear reason regarding concept. With the orchestra also onstage, it’s sometimes difficult to hear performers even though they’re miked.
Other innovative aspects of the production are more effective, such as the frequent use of the aisles, and a secret under-stage entrance to Fagin’s den. Scenic design by Sam Transleau makes a rough-hewn wooden platform for the main stage into numerous locales through clever set pieces and an attractive coherence. Lighting design by April George appropriately highlights playing areas and gives soft interiors as well as glooming moonlight. Amaris Blagborne does an amazing job with period costumes for those dozens of characters, aided by Roxie Johnson on wig, hair and makeup.
Director Patrick Nims, music director Ginger Beavers, and choreographer Joseph Favalora have created a marvelous entertainment, both interesting and satisfying to watch. You won’t be disappointed.
N.B.: Not recommended for children under 8; running time is 2.5 hours and some elements might frighten or confuse younger children.
Book, music & lyrics by Lionel Bart.
Presented by 6th Street Playhouse
Through Dec, 15, 2019
Thu at 7:30pm, Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $35-$48; Senior, Under-30, and Group discounts
6th Street Playhouse, G.K. Hardt Theater
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
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