OLIVER!: The Clanking Heart of Darkness

Ed HuyckCity Pages

February 9, 2015

For the first half-hour or so of the Theatre Latte Da/Hennepin Theatre Trust's Oliver!, you have a perfectly fine production of Lionel Bart's Oliver!

Then Bradley Greenwald enters the picture and ramps the show up to 11. As he has done so often over the years, Greenwald takes command of a character and makes it hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

This time it is as Fagin, the thief-king who takes little orphan Oliver off the bad streets of Victorian London. Here, the character is a magic man (literally, as he showcases a number of magic tricks during "Pick a Pocket or Two") who hides some inner conflict about what he and the boys are doing.

It's not much self-doubt, but it gives a character that can be easily defined by stereotypes a bit of depth. Greenwald takes that for all it's worth. He also performs the hell out of Fagin's numbers.

A quick recap: Oliver Twist is a young orphan who, after having the audacity to ask for more than the starvation-level gruel offered at the workhouse, ends up on an adventure to London. There, he falls in with Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and starts to train as a thief.

Oliver has the worst first day of work ever, as he is nabbed on his first attempt at pickpocketing. The man he tries to rob takes pity on the boy and shows him a better life, but the denizens of the seedy world below are not willing to give up Oliver so easily.

Peter Rothstein's production doesn't hide the grime of the story, from giving us dozens of dirty workhouse boys at the beginning to the colorful-if-worn-and-torn clothes of Fagin's band. The look, certainly of Fagin and company, takes cues from steampunk (from set designer Rick Polenek and costume designer Alice Fredrickson), creating an intriguing visual contrast between these lower classes and the stuffy folks in control.

As Bill Sykes, Dieter Bierbrauer looks like a refugee from Rammstein, as he wears thigh-high boots, black leather pants, and colorful dreadlocks. His magnetic performance helps make his relationship with Nancy easier to understand.

That's also aided by Lauren Davis's performance. Nancy isn't the easiest character for modern audiences to understand, as she is locked in an obviously abusive relationship that still inspires her to sing songs of love and longing. Davis gives us clues as to why Nancy sticks around, and helps make her a convincing character.

Nate Turcotte struggled early on opening night as Oliver, with some vocal and technical issues. Once those cleared up, the young actor made the best of the role and provided a strong core to the show.

Rothstein's production, aided by choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell, offers plenty of entertainment through a fast-paced and visually engaging time. It's the stars, however, who make some moments something special.