Oliver! It's playing at the Actors' Playhouse and the sixteen Workhouse Boys and “Food, Glorious Food” have opened the show. Ken Clement and Elizabeth Dimon as Mr Bumble and Widow Corney follow with “Oliver,” “I Shall Scream” and “Boy For Sale,” Just great. Then there's “That's Your Funeral” with Mark A. Harmon and Maribeth Graham. Delightful. And we're all set for a wonderful evening of Lionel Bart's classic of 1850's London.
But somewhere along the way, towards the end of the first act, when we're in the Thieves Kitchen, things start to go flat. The veteran Gary Marachak is the star of the show as Fagin and when he speaks his first lines to Oliver my first thought is “My God, I didn't know Fagin was a paedophile.” Marachak is an interesting actor, too interesting at times. You want to follow all his little tricks and perhaps it's these tricks that slow things down. But he did have dirty teeth. The only one of the 1850s slum dwelling thieves, prostitutes and ragamuffins who didn't have bright, shiny choppers and in the case of the women, all but Jeni Hacker had impeccable modern day make-up. A small thing, perhaps, but watching the impressive Shane Tanner as grimy Bill Sykes as he sang “My Name” and brutalized all in sight, I fell in love with his beautiful white teeth.
Big musicals are the thing with Actors' Playhouse. They do them often and they do them well. Huge casts, great sets and costumes, wonderful singers and dancers, live music are the stuff of this theatre. And Oliver! is no exception. But when there's no singing or dancing the show loses its drive, and that's a shame, for otherwise there's a lot of pleasure in this piece.
Amy Miller Brennan displays her fine singing as Nancy but had her “As Long As He Needs Me” been any slower we'd have been eating breakfast in the lobby rather than the opening night buffet.
Cruz M. Santiago as Oliver has a pretty voice but could have been feistier, and Kyle Christensen as The Artful Dodger didn't really strut his stuff.
David Arisco directed Oliver! and David Nagy conducted the fine eight piece orchestra. Choreography by Chrissi Ardito, set by Sean McClelland, costumes by Ellis Tillman and light and sound design by Patrick Tennent and Alexander Herrin.
Oliver! plays through December 26 at The Actors' Playhouse at The Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables. Call 305.444.9293 or visit www.actorsplayhouse.org.