6/23/2019          OLIVER!                     Atlanta Lyric Theatre                  

*****  ( A+ )  



This particular rendition, a musical entertainment of light and darkness, comedy and tragedy, song and dance, was first conceived in England itself, seeing first life on the boards of London’s West End in the distant year of 1960, conceived and created by Lionel Bart; it made the cross-Atlantic journey two years later to arrive in that mecca of lost dreams, dashed hopes, and dizzying successes, Manhattan, where it was immediately accorded its due honors and awards, as well as its inevitable Oscar-worthy film adaptation, followed by tours, regional productions, and countless revivals, the most recent being 2016 at the Arena Stage of Washington DC, that political mecca of lost dreams, dashed hopes, and dizzying successes.


I say all this as preamble, supporting a questionable contention that most readers know the tale, have read Mr. Dickens original novel, either for the sheer thrill of it or under duress in some obscure educational ritual; ergo a regurgitation of the plot points is not only unnecessary, but a tad patronizing and more than a little time-consuming for one at war with a deadline, as too often this particular chronicler finds himself.


As to the qualities of this particular production itself, it really doesn’t matter, given that the final performance is of the past, the performers and creative team have presumably moved on to a subsequent endeavor, and all is dark and still and hushed within the theatre itself.


All I will say is that I have rarely seen so many talented actor-singer-dancers of a very much less-than “certain” age on one stage at one time, that the adults in their company were of equal status and talent, that the design and construction of the world that only existed in the minds of Mr. Dickens and his many readers and acolytes was impressively rendered and expressively convincing, and that at least this particular viewer found himself weak with joy and insensate with admiration for everyone involved, the names of whom can be found if my readers are curious, but whose names and histories I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no consequence to the reader, in this stage of society’s ineluctable plunge into the future.


I must, though, at least make a comment on the character of Fagin, who from first appearance to most recent, has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism from Jew and Gentile alike, and, in this version, I fear my Dickensophile self must complain that Fagin looked as Zionistic as anyone named McKerley could possibly look, but my Theatrophile self must applaud the performance, as over-the-top perfect, finding comic nuance in every corner in every gesture in every melody in every dance step, without making us forget the dark nature of the character and the cruelties he reveals to his young charges; in defense of this casting, I will observe that any mention of the character’s ethnicity has been sloughed off like so much unfortunate detail, a klezmeresque violin arpeggio excepted, if indeed any such mention ever wended its way from page to stage.


To end with another possibly familiar homage, within the confines of a dark Marietta Theatre there stands, in this writer’s own mind, a marble tablet, which bears as yet one word – “Oliver!” – There is no set remaining, no brilliantly conceived colorful lights elbowing aside the gloom, no pulsating music echoing, and it may be many weeks before another name is placed above it.  But, if the spirits of productions past ever come to earth to visit spots hallowed by the love of the art – that love that lingers beyond the final curtain – of spaces that once teemed with talent and joy, I believe the shade of this “Oliver!” will forever cast its memory and its spell.  I believe it none the less because a theatre is a church, and excellence is strong and unerring and echoes through the ages.


            -- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #ALT_Oliver!)

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