Today, we went to see the Cabrillo Music Theatre production of Oliver!, the 1965 Lionel Bart musical, as reworked in the 1990s. The cast included Hap Lawrence as Fagin, Fiama Fricano as Nancy, Stephen Bishop as Bill Sykes, Eric Austin Young as Oliver, Seth Zibalese as Artful Dodger, and Stephen Reynolds as Mr. Bumble. The production was directed by David Ralphe, choreographed by Cheryl Baxter, and produced by Kevin Traxler.
I’m interested in any production of Oliver! Perhaps it is because I’m concerned about any portrayal of a character named Fagin (as my last name is similar, Faigin). Recently, I saw the Roman Polanski production of Oliver Twist (which I highly recommend), and I’ve very familiar with both the book and the movie musical version of Oliver. So how does this version compare?
Book-wise, Bart had to simplify the story. There is no description of Oliver’s travels to London, no breakin at the Brownlow household, and much of the relationship subplot between Brownlow and Oliver is gone (although the relationship is preserved, unlike in the Polanski version). Fagin’s Jewish nature is toned down from the book (although not as sympathetic as in the Polanski film). There are distinct differences from the movie musical version, especially in atmosphere and feeling. The method of death of both Sykes and Nancy is distinctly different (which isn’t a surprise given the nature of stage).
Production-wise, how was it. First and foremost, Fricano excelled as Nancy. She had the voice, she had the presence, she had the attitude, she had the build (although the costumer didn’t show it off to the best effect). She nailed all of her songs (she has a number of the strongest songs in the play). Fricano, a UCLA and CSUN graduate, has had a number of significant roles, including playing Fanny Brice and Ethel Merman in the recent “The Melody Lingers On” at the El Portal.
But what about Fagin, you ask. Fagin, played by Hap Lawrence, was OK. There was absolutely no Jewish nature to his portrayal: he seemed to be a tall, lanky, scraggly fellow of indeterminate religion. Judge that as you will. He also played the role straight, unless many of the stage Fagins (Clive Reville (broadway, films), Ron Moody (broadway, film), or Jonathan Pryce (broadway, film), all of whom tended to ham and play up the role. Although the main character in the piece, Lawrence’s Fagin stayed in the background. I saw Lawrence previously in Only a Kingdom at the Pasadena Playhouse, but he was also in movies such as Inherit the Wind with George C Scott and Jack Lemmon, and TV programs such as Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (as Lincoln) and in my favorite Moonlighting episode, Atomic Shakespeare, in the scene with Colm Meany. Most importantly, he was the “candy man” in the M&M commercials of the 1980s.
Bill Sykes was also played very strongly, which for a small role takes talent. He was played by Stephen Bishop, who last starred in the CMT vehicle Annie Get Your Gun (at least that’s what his bio says, but my review seems to note differently). He also played Gaston in numerous Beauty and the Beast versions.
Eric Austin Young, a local fifth grader, played Oliver. He is a regular for CMT, and has had leading roles such as JoJo in Suessical. I didn’t find him that strong; he didn’t give off the right pathos for me.
Lastly, a word about theatre attendees. We had a whole family with a number of little ones sitting in front of us (we have 2nd row balcony). There were kids bouncing on seats, leaning forward and back, and mom or dad were constantly taking one or the other ones in and out, in the middle of musical numbers. Bad form. If you are going to take your kids to the theatre, they need to know professional theatre decorum. If they are not ready for that, take them to an amateur production until they learn it. We moved back one row at intermission, and it helped some.
Next on the theatre calendar: our big theatre weekend. Next Friday night, we are meeting shutterbug93 for dinner, and then walking up to the Colony Theatre to see The Grand Tour. The next night we go to the Pasadena Playhouse to see Open Window. The following day, Sunday, we go to the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood to see Pump Boys and Dinettes. Closer on the horizon, however, is Mitzvah Day at Temple Beth Hillel tomorrow.