“You’ve got to pick a pocket or two” is still running through my head after seeing Saturday night’s delightful performance of Oliver! at Rabbit Run Theater, in Madison, Ohio. Oliver!, the musical, is based on the story Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. It is the tale of a boy who is abandoned in the poor house when his mother dies, sold to an undertaker to be a professional mourner then taken in by a band of orphan thieves.
The part of Oliver was played by blond haired Sam Rees, 3rd grade, who was very convincing as a confused, scared child thrown into the big bad world alone. The Artful Dodger, played by Stephen Sandham, was appropriately cheeky and street smart, and pulled off a Cockney accent like it was his first language. He leads Oliver back to Fagin’s lair, where Oliver is schooled in the art of pickpocketry.
Fagin (George Roth) was as artful as the Dodger, acting both as father figure and task master of his band of mischief makers. Fagin and Dodger performed as if they had just been pulled off the streets of London. These two had a great on-stage rapport.
Nancy, (Evie Koh) was the mother and sweetheart of the orphan band. She had some tender and heartbreaking scenes with her conniving lover, Bill Sykes, played villainously by David Malinowski. Her strong, full voice was well showcased, especially in the touching ballad, As Long As He Needs Me and the rousing bar scene, Oom-Pah-Pah.
The orphans were a fun bunch to watch, careening on and stomping around the stage just like boys do. For a cast of so many children there were no slip ups that I could see. Everybody was on their mark and remembered their lines and songs just like the pros
Some of the peripheral characters were show stoppers. The undertaker and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry, (Mark Pendleton and Sandy Kosovich Peck) and Mr. Bumble (Pat Mazzarino), the beadle of the workhouse, provided comic relief.. The chorus was full of grand singers, the costumes spot-on for the period, and the sets were creative. The songs and choreography did great service to the original within the limits of the barn stage. Director Brendan Sandham masterfully pulled together a diverse 40+ member cast of amateurs and pros into a cohesive unit. Bonus fact: 11 families were represented in the cast and crew.
Rabbit Run is a historic barn theater. The rustic setting lent itself well to the recreation of the dingy streets of London in the 1800’s and the hidey hole of Fagin’s band of orphan thieves. I’m sure it was a challenge to create a set that could remain basically the same yet be transformed from indoor to outdoor and room to room, but Ray Beach’s crew did a marvelous job.
My only criticism would be there seemed to be a problem with the sound system. A couple of numbers were too soft at their beginnings and the live orchestra overpowered the singers at times but it was a small technical glitch that did not in any way detract from the performance.
Dana, Andy and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening. Andy was very engrossed in the action. Right before the intermission, Oliver is caught by the police when trying to pick the pocket of a wealthy man. As the lights dimmed, he appeared to be clubbed by one of the “coppers” and Andy let out a resounding “Uggggggghhhhh!” It was all we could do to keep from bursting out in loud guffaws at that serious moment of the story. Then the lights came up and we were free to let our laughter flow.
Oliver! finishes its run June 28, 29, and 30th. Tickets are still available. A Dickens of A Summer continues at Rabbit Run with performances of The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Rabbit Run is a delightful place and should be included in your summer fun schedule. It is such a small venue there are not bad seats. We were seated 2 rows from the back and could see and hear perfectly. The barn doors on both sides are open during performances for ventilation and during this particular performance a catbird in a tree outside sang along with the performers. Later, the sound from the actors competed with the sound of fireworks going off in the distance.
The Rabbit Run experience on that night included a serenade by hammered dulcimers before the performance and during intermission. There are picnic tables, benches and chairs in the beautifully landscaped garden area. Soft drinks, water and snacks are available. I believe you can picnic there before the performance if the area is not reserved, check with the venue.
Below is a slide show of our evening. I hope you get to have a Rabbit Run experience this summer, too!
For more info:Rabbit Run Theater Arts Association 5648 W. Chapel Rd. Madison, OH 44057 Phone: 440-428-5913 www.rabbitrunonline.org/theater