Oliver! at the 6th Street Playhouse (Aired: November 20, 2019)

North Bay theatre patrons are well aware of the numerous performances cancelled because of the Kincade fire and PG&E power shutoffs. What they may not know is the impact those factors had on shows in the middle of their rehearsals. 

There’s no doubt that loss of critical time can be attributed to some – but not all – of the raggedness evident in the 6th Street Playhouse production of Oliver!, running through December 22. Odd directorial choices and horrible sound mixing also contributed to a less-than-satisfactory opening night performance of this classic musical.

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is a dark look at the underbelly of a 19th century England full of orphanages, workhouses, and crime. British writer/composer Lionel Bart managed to turn it into a somewhat family-friendly musical that had a very successful West End debut and Tony-winning Broadway run followed by a multi-Oscar-winning film adaptation.  

Orphan boy Oliver (an under-rehearsed Cecilia Brenner) is living the hard-knock life when he’s sold to a local undertaker. He runs away to London and is taken in by a young pickpocket known as the Artful Dodger (a personable Mario Herrera). The Dodger introduces him to Fagin (David Yen, strong), the “mentor” to a gang of youthful thieves who have a beer hall lass named Nancy (Brittany Law, excellent) as a mother figure. Circumstances soon find Oliver in a good home, but Nancy’s mate Bill Sikes (a sinister Zachary Hasbany) sees Oliver as threat. A violent end is in store for someone.

The show requires a large cast and while director Patrick Nims has 24 performers on stage, more than half of them are kids. Consequently, the adult actors essay multiple roles (Dwayne Stincelli as the undertaker and a curly-locked housemaid; Maureen O’Neill as the undertaker’s wife and a ridiculously mutton-chopped Mr. Bedwin, etc.) as well as inanimate objects like doors and window blinds, while the kids play street urchins, the occasional adult, and animals. This gave the show a strange tone and led to the evening’s oddest moment when the violent bludgeoning death of a character was immediately followed by the sound of the audience’s “Aw!” at the sight of a child playing a dog.

Conceptual issues aside, poor sound work off stage repeatedly undermined quality performances on stage. I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but sound really matters in a musical.

At some point, could no one step forward and say, “Please sir, I want some more… rehearsal?”

‘Oliver!’ runs through December 15 in the GK Hardt Theatre at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; there are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.

For more information, go to 6thstreetplayhouse.com

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