“Oliver!” at the Pantages Theatre: Steampunk’d

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Immediately walking out of OLIVER! by Theatre Latte Da, I could have made a mile-long list of things that were wrong with the production, but in the following days, I felt Punk’d, like Theatre Latte Da had managed to play a trick on me. I found myself humming “Consider Yourself” and “Pick a Pocket or Two.” I longed for Oliver’s world of steampunk gears and goggles. So there’s good news and bad news for OLIVER!.

Bad news first. The school-aged boys playing the Workhouse Boys could have used a little more practice. Occasionally, a few boys would audibly finish a sung line too early, and it was mildly distracting. My first thought was that they might not be used to choral singing, but that theory was debunked when I learned that the boys were all in the Minnesota Boychoir. Then I figured that, because they are typically choral singers, they might not be accustomed to dancing and singing simultaneously, as it is a skill that needs to be developed.

In addition, the mics could have used a fine-tuning. Sometimes lines were dropped or weren’t picked up in time, or mics were too loud or quiet for the music. In their defense, this was the first night performing for an audience, so they do get a few passes on their tech. Coming from a tech background, I know that sometimes it’s hard to know anything until the show is up in front of an audience.

And, as a last note, the fighting was dreadfully unrealistic. I understand that they didn’t want to hurt anyone, but someone would push Oliver (Nate Turcotte), and they would just barely graze him, then moments later, he would fall to the ground. The delay in the push and fall was almost slapstick. That might need a bit of a touch-up.

So, with the bad news out of the way, it’s time for the good news. The most phenomenal moments of the show nearly always involved Fagin and Fagin’s Gang. Those boys were strong singers and worked incredibly well together. They sing that Oliver should “consider [himself] part of the family,” and as those lines were sung, the joyousness and enthusiasm radiated from stage and hit me square in the face. “Consider Yourself” was such an enjoyable song to watch that it made me want to be a part of their family. Fagin, played by Bradley Greenwald, made himself into the boys’ eccentric uncle, doing magic tricks and encouraging them to go out and “pick a pocket or two.”

The set, designed by Rick Polenek, that backed all of the actors was also stunning. It was very clear that we were to be transported to Victorian England, and yet, there was the added “something special.” It was the oil-rubbed bronze and iron that gave everything a slightly rough-and-tumble, yet poised and presentable intrigue, just the vision of Victorian England that is so appropriate to the show. The set never flies up or rotates, only props do occasionally, which always shows immense creativity. When there is one space to work with, the space has to work for everything, from the funeral home to Fagin’s hideout to Brownlow’s mansion. It was a space-effective, yet beautiful set – a tricky balance to achieve.

Ultimately, this show had me tricked. Even with all of the issues, the show has stuck with me. It’s the fresh take with steampunk and the eccentricity of Fagin and the begrimed Victorian set. While I may have been able to do without some elements of the show, I could never do without OLIVER! as a whole.