By Buffy Calvert
Oliver! (book, words and music by Lionel Bart) in all its Dickensian rollicking humor and heart-wrenching pathos came alive before an overflow audience on Friday night, November 6th, at the Andes Central School. The ACS Drama Club, which seems to engage every aspect of the school and community, surpassed even my very great expectations.
For openers, the Workhouse orphans, from tiny tot to teen, under the merciless eyes of Widow Corney (the inimitable Alexis Redden) and tyrannical but hapless Mr. Bumble (Stanley Anderson), gobble gruel and dance wildly, singing “Food, Glorious Food!” until silence falls and a pale but plucky Oliver steps up to ask, “Please sir, may I have some more?” The Workhouse workhorses (Jeff Rhone and Anthony Coiro, who play teachers in real life) chase the lively, darting, clever urchin (Shane Edwards) over and under tables to the audience’s delight.
After a comic scene between the feignedly coy widow and amorous Bumble, and the brief, heartbreaking offer to the audience of a wan, ragged “Boy for Sale,” we cheer Oliver’s escape from the grasping undertakers and Bumble, only to see him lonely and destitute in a graveyard.
In a magical moment, Shane Edwards, the small Oliver, sings plaintively “Where Is Love?” to be joined by Jay Camuti in identical clothing, about a foot taller and uncannily alike. Both sing together until older Oliver gives his younger self a half wave. Mid-phrase, small Oliver fades away, leaving the stage to an equally pure-voiced and poignant actor.
The Artful Dodger, played by the wonderfully talented Winnie Richards-Consigny, in red tophat, all guile and good humor, struts up to Oliver and lures him into Fagin’s den. And such a subtle, slippery, sensitive, conflicted Fagin this is, as inhabited by the infinitely gifted Peter James DePierro. A stark contrast to Noah Dougherty’s purely menacing Bill Sykes who sent chills down our spines.
Directors John Bernhardt, Eloise Harris, Lisa Valkavich, Elaine Peck and Jonathan Andrews enlarged the stage by a second layer: tables that actors leaped onto and danced atop and slithered under, as well as invasions of the audience itself. The flower, mussel, and milk sellers drifted down the aisles singing the haunting “Who Will Buy?” antiphonally to be joined by Oliver at his grandfather’s house on stage. Bill Sykes challenged the front rows in “My Name.” At the end, a wistful Fagin addressed individuals along the aisle in his query, “Can a man change? It’s possible…” then cheerily joined ranks with his old protégé, the Dodger, and walked out the door.
The harsh London underworld is brought to cruel life by Montana Damone’s vulnerable, desperate, always moving Nancy, Bill Sykes’ abused girlfriend, and by Posey, her friend, played with verve by Belle Bourke.
The ensemble was backed by an eager crowd of workhouse orphans and pickpockets whose choreographed movements and choruses kept the action going. The music, lights and sound and a backdrop of flexible sets were flawlessly maneuvered. Everything worked together to give the audience an emotional and thoroughly enjoyable evening. ~