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By John Horan Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre's production of "Oliver!" is a triumph, a vividly staged, exuberantly performed, richly detailed excursion into Victorian England.
Lionel Bart's musical presents unusual challenges. Its large cast, including a score of urchins, makes it a logistical nightmare. Its scope, nearly as broad as the work on which it is based, Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," presents many pitfalls. Its numerous vignettes are difficult to shape into a coherent whole. Yet the Shenandoah production succeeds on all fronts.
The staging is ambitious. Wm. McConnell Bozman's set has multiple levels and a runway in front of the orchestra pit. At the center is Fagin's lair, a compact room where the old pickpocket capers with his boys. The layered main scenery that conjures the London skyline includes little windows that people peer from in the musical's big numbers.
Director Hal Herman elicits convincing portrayals from all the actors. No detail is overlooked in even the smallest role.
Pride of place, though, belongs to Bart Shatto as Fagin. Playing him as a beloved rascal, he's a dervish of activity as he urges on his corps of pickpockets. His signature number, "Reviewing the Situation," is riveting as he eyes his booty and cavorts around the stage, his voice ranging over several octaves.
Equally memorable are Robin Higginbotham as the soulful Nancy and Rick Wesley as the menacing villain, Bill Sykes.
John Baker and Whitney Warrenfeltz are comical as the poorhouse overseers who wind up wed. Sally Anderson is the yowling wife of the coffin maker, played by Gene Babb.
And then there is the younger generation. Henry Buchholz is a winsome Oliver, innocent and vulnerable, singing his signature tunes in a pleasant soprano. Timothy Boyer, the Artful Dodger, lives up to his name although his thick accent is hard to understand.
The orphans are uniformly cute and energetic. Fagin's boys and the chorus are equally winning. They revel in the music and handle Matthew Gose's choreography with skill.
Cheryl Yancey supplies a bounty of sumptuous costumes. Bozman also provides the tasteful lighting.