Oliver!, Village Players Theater. Both Charles Dickens's tale of juvenile gangs in 19th-century London and this musical adaptation of it center on the dynamics of preadolescents and adolescents with adults and with one another. Fortunately, the Village Players Theater offers classes in dramatic theory and practice for young people, providing this Oak Park troupe with a phalanx of trained actors ranging in age from 5 to 15. From the show's first moments--when 18 waifs file down the aisles and onstage to exult in "food! glorious food!" with never a skipped beat or wavering pitch--we're won over totally. And Gina Cappetta as Oliver Twist and Jen Gerace as the Artful Dodger easily navigate their difficult urban-slum dialects and Lionel Bart's robust score, all the while effortlessly maintaining the illusion that they're boys.
Too bad the adult performers aren't as well coached. Cockneys with plodding accents, stumbling vocalists, and a sadly underrehearsed accompanist can't help but be eclipsed by the disciplined youths surrounding them. Michael J. Meyer as a Tevye-like Fagin and Aubrey Ehrenfried as a swaggering Nancy at least appear to be having fun, and Robert Novak and Kim Tunnicliff likewise display a nice presence onstage. But this production suggests that this community theater's success at breaking into the professional leagues will rest on the backs of its juvenile contingent.
--Mary Shen Barnidge