Twin-city ‘Oliver!’ is something special
It was an extremely happy idea for the operatic societies of Napier and Hastings to combine for a musical production, and if Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!”, which opened in the Hastings Municipal Theatre last night, is an example of the results that can be achieved, there is no reason why this should not become an annual event.
It is far and away the best amateur musical I have seen and heard for many a long year. James Morgan, who was entrusted with the production of this important event, has excelled himself.
NOT ONLY does this presentation show, at almost every turn, the hand of an experienced producer, but the musical talent on which the two societies had to draw is revealed in the strength of the casting, so that there are absolutely no weak links. And in this connection the name of the musical director, Cec Fitzwater, must be linked with that of Mr Morgan, for Mr Fitzwater’s work on this production is quite obviously of equal importance. Added enjoyment is provided by a well-balanced orchestra which was never out of place.
“Oliver! in case anyone does not know, is adapted from the story of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, and Mr Morgan managed to retain the nineteenth century old-world atmosphere in his settings and costumes.
IT WAS quite obvious from the opening number “Food, Glorious Food” that this show was going to be something rather special, and I was particularly impressed with the discipline shown in the choreography of this number. It was a discipline that was maintained throughout the production and Mr Morgan handled his crowd scenes with consummate skill, so that they flowed over the stage.
For once the story was allowed to move forward without the imposition of choreographic numbers, and with troupes of dancing girls bearing little or no relation to the plot, the simple choreography that appears in”Oliver!” becomes more of a necessary accompaniment to the musical numbers than an act in itself.
PERHAPS Dickens’s basic story has been overdramatised [over dramatised] in places for theatrical effect, and the body of Bill Sykes swinging on the end of a rope in the closing scenes of the play turned drama into melodrama.
But this was a very minor point in a story which for the most part moved along smoothly, with the musical numbers springing naturally from the dialogue and the story.
IN A CAST universally good it is difficult to single anyone out for special mention. In the principal roles Robyn Houston interpreted the part of Nancy with spirit and vivacity and her strong voice made the most of the hit number “As Long As He Needs Me”; Peter Mackie as Fagin gave one of the best performances I have yet seen him give; and two youngsters in Robert Rogers as Oliver and Alan Rench as the Artful Dodger needed no allowance to be made for their youth. They presented their parts like seasoned performers, and were particularly good in the number “Consider Yourself.”
BOB MURRAY and Gillian Davies as the beadle and matron at the workhouse, also provided some good comedy and tuneful singing to the overall success of the show. Bunny Unsworth as Bill Sykes, although a trifle inaudible on his first entrance, contributed the necessary menace to the part.
In fact, almost the only complaint I had to make with this performance was the difficulty of catching the words in some of the vocal numbers, particularly the chorus.
An elaborate setting with a revolving stage was in keeping with the general high quality of this production and enabled a continuous change of scene to be made without any break in the action.
In fact, the worst feature of this presentation was the programme, which slowly disintegrated after the pages had been turned a few times and by the time of the final curtain became merely a cluster of loose leaves.
The show will continue nightly at Hastings until August 26. and will open in Napier on August 31 and continue until September 9.
THE QUALITY of the musical shows from both the Napier and Hastings societies has been varied in recent years, but the current production of “Oliver!” billed as a twin-city production, looks like being a real winner. I shall be extremely surprised if it does not break all local records. At all events, its quality is such that it deserves to do so. – E.B.