I had the pleasure yesterday of attending the opening night performance of the musical, Oliver Twist, at the old movie theatre on Luke Air Force Base. The show was presented by the local acting company, The Luke Experience, who amazingly manage to put on a new production every couple of months.
First, a disclosure. I am a huge fan of Charles Dickens - currently reading A Tale of Two Cities - and went prepared to thoroughly enjoy this show. I was not disappointed.
I have been to plays where the director appeared to be little more than incidental to the production, but that was definitely not the case with this version of Oliver Twist. Director Janelle Donovan owned the show from beginning to end. The story flowed seamlessly as her cast moved adroitly from scene to scene never dropping lines, while slipping flawlessly into and out of song-and-dance mode. Just the thought of trying to put on a well-known but complicated musical in the antiquated and cavernous Luke Theatre would have defeated many aspiring directors, particularly with a cast that contained many children. But Donovan handled it masterfully and created a heck of a good show in the process!
The kids were great, and as kids are prone to do, they stole scene after scene. Trevor Dillion, the young man who played Oliver had a commanding stage presence and never wandered. He remained focused on who he was and what he was doing. His physical interactions with others on stage were strong and believable - such as when he was learning to pick pockets from Fagin (Daniel Calderon) or striking back at the evil Bill Sikes (Cris Ceroni). Young Trevor Dillion is a real talent.
Cris Ceroni could hold his own with any acting group in the Phoenix area - and I don't say that lightly because I go to lots of plays in and around Phoenix. When Ceroni walks out onto the stage, he is his character, body and soul. It is always a treat to watch him perform. He nailed the role of Bill Sikes.
Daniel Calderon is a surprisingly good song-and-dance man. It would be fun to watch him perform in a smaller venue with better acoustics. Lacy Quattlebaum was beautiful and alluring (in a 19th century East London sort of way) as Sikes' paramour and Oliver's protector, Nancy. She also is a talented vocalist and is very comfortable and accomplished on the stage.
Ron Fantasia, a regular member of the Luke Experience acting troupe, was splendid as the Artful Dodger, a role that is as central to this story as that of Oliver himself. The Dodger is the de facto leader of Fagin's ragamuffins, and Oliver's mentor. He and Nancy bring humanity to the bleakness of London and the times. Fantasia (what a great name!) complimented this role with a very nice singing voice.
(If I had one wish for the Luke Experience, it would be this: that they would all show up one night dressed in black, march single-file out behind the theatre bearing a couple of shovels, and bury those awful headsets - and then spend weeks, or months if necessary, learning to project across that cave of a theatre. Either that, or raise some funds and spend it on sound equipment - and I would be glad to help with that. Or, option three, find a smaller venue with better acoustics. You guys are far too good for those barking microphones.)
I smiled all the way through last night's performance of Oliver Twist, and I may very likely go again tonight and smile some more!