Oliver! earns its exclamation point at Marriott | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Oliver! earns its exclamation point at Marriott

The Dickensian melodrama-turned-musical features an outstanding ensemble.


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Lionel Bart's musical adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1839 novel Oliver Twist first premiered on London's West End in 1960, went on to a Tony Award-winning run on Broadway in 1963, and in 1968 was made into a hit movie that won six Academy Awards, including Oscars for best director and best picture. But that was a long time ago. And it shows. In Bart's tunes (full of nostalgic looks back to England's now long-dead music hall tradition), in the melodramatic story (hinging on several unbelievable convenient coincidences), and in cringeworthy running gags about nagging wives and poor, beaten-down husbands.

Still, the show remains as energetic and entertaining as you'd expect from a musical with an exclamation mark in its title. Bart's book trims down and speeds up Dickens's leisurely newspaper-serial plot. And Bart's score is packed with earworms. Just try to get "Oom-Pah-Pah" out of your head once you've heard it.

The Marriott revival, directed by Nick Bowling with music direction by Ryan T. Nelson, is as bright and lively a re-creation of the exploitation of children in mid-19th-century London slums as you could hope for. The ensemble of triple threats is in general first-rate, and contains several brilliant standouts. William Brown's inspired take on the snake Fagin is by turns charming and dangerous, alluring and repellent. And Lucy Godinez, playing the good-hearted prostitute, Nancy, proves again and again she's a singer to be reckoned with: her pipes are strong enough to blow the roof off the house.  v

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