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'Oliver!' delivers delightful performance


August 01, 2014

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    As a kick-off to their fall season, the Averitt Center for the Arts proudly presents Oliver!, the musical rendition of Charles Dickens’ classic chronicle of an orphan boy’s experiences in the London criminal underworld. And the Averitt Center has every right to be proud of their production: their performance of Oliver! is fun, entertaining and downright adorable. Connect is glad to have been allowed into their final dress rehearsal to review the show before it premieres tonight.
    While the first few scenes do a fair job of drawing the audience’s interest and establishing plot, the show really picks up at the entrance of the Artful Dodger, played by Emma-award-winning Paul Nielsen. Dodger is the cleverest young pickpocket in the city, full of mischief and charm, which Nielsen exudes in his spot-on performance. His accent is consistent, his character is perfect and, while his singing and projection could use some tweaking, his chemistry with the rest of the cast is fantastic.
    Matching Nielsen is Oliver himself, brought to life by 12-year-old Ian McClendon. His performance of Oliver Twist is sweet, vulnerable and utterly likable. Vocally, McClendon has one of the best voices in the ensemble, particularly in the younger cast. He and Nielsen pair nicely in “Consider Yourself,” but their performances in “I’d Do Anything” are incredibly charming and endearing.
    From the adult cast, the characters who make up the criminal cast sweep the honorable mentions. Jennifer Nunn is wonderful as Nancy and delivers by far one of the best performances in the show, and though the script doesn’t give her much to work with, Abi Sneathen makes a good match as Nancy’s friend Bet. These two ladies are easily the strongest vocalists in the cast. Alongside them is Patrick Galletta, playing the show’s villain Bill Sykes. While his entrance as the big baddie is somewhat weak, he develops into a despicable character as he warms up in his performance.
    This critic’s choice, however, is Fagin. Newcomer Scott Foxx brings a Jack Sparrow-like swagger to the character, who leads a troop of child thieves and pickpockets. Foxx fearlessly hams up his character’s oddities and flaws, and his solo performance in “Reviewing the Situation” completely steals the show. He’s excellent, and the audience can sincerely hope to see more of Foxx in future Averitt Center shows.
    The Averitt Center makes good use of the local talent from its summer camps for this show. The smaller children make an incredibly cute ensemble in big group numbers like “Food, Glorious Food.” While the tiny singers were a little pitchy and could have used a few more days of practice, the Averitt Center did a great job managing so many young actors, and they are simply delightful to watch.
    The show’s choreography, however, shines. The dance ensemble features many familiar faces from the center’s recent ballet intensive, and their effortless spins, glides and lifts provide dynamic, energizing performances that really carry the show’s big numbers, particularly “Oom Pah Pah” and “Who Will Buy?"
    Of course, every show has its sticking points. There were some issues with the actor’s microphones coming too close to their faces or distorting the performers’ voices. Some actors had a hard time holding their various London accents. Using a projector to establish the scenery definitely has its merits, but it also creates the hazards of a rippling backdrop whenever someone crosses behind the runner, or placing the projection of a London alleyway on a character who happens to be standing too close to the screen. The two death scenes are hurried and understated, but one can hardly fault director Lisa Abbott for keeping the scenes bloodless. This is, after all, supposed to be a family-friendly show.
    Bear in mind: Connect was allowed to view a dress rehearsal, not an actual performance. After addressing the director’s notes and with a live audience to energize them, the cast is sure to be even better. Even during its final dress rehearsal, Oliver! was definitely worth seeing, and this weekend’s audience can look forward to thoroughly enjoyable performances during the show’s run.


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