by Christopher Verleger

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 5, 2014

The cast of ’Oliver!’ at Trinity Rep
The cast of ’Oliver!’ at Trinity Rep  (Source:Mark Turek)

Every once in a while, it is important to be reminded that stage musicals are not all period pieces of recycled fluff derived from a somewhat forgotten hit at the box office, and furthermore, children are as equally talented as their elder costars and capable of more than just contributing to a chorus of yuletide carols.

Trinity Repertory Company's extraordinary production of "Oliver!" boasts an amazing ensemble of company vets at their best, a superb group of youngsters and momentous returns from its director and lead actress.

Based on the Charles Dickens classic novel, "Oliver Twist," about a young orphan boy's struggle for survival on the streets of Victorian England, "Oliver!" won three Tony Awards in 1963 and its 1968 film adaptation won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

With music and lyrics from Tony winner Lionel Bart, the beloved musical's unforgettable, crowd-pleasing numbers include "Food, Glorious Food," "Consider Yourself," and "I'd do Anything."

Superbly directed and choreographed by former Trinity Rep Artistic Director (and Oscar-nominated actor) Richard Jenkins and Sharon Jenkins, this bold, colorful production features Phineas Peters, who shines in the titular role, and an adorably impish Noah Parets as his partner-in-crime, the Artful Dodger.

Young Oliver makes the acquaintance of the Dodger after escaping from the clutches of Mr. Sowerberry (Erick Pinnick), an undertaker who purchased the "Boy for Sale" from the unscrupulous workhouse owner Mr. Bumble (a wonderfully wicked Tom Gleadow) and his culpable counterpart, Mrs. Corney (an equally delightful Anne Scurria).

This bold, colorful production features Phineas Peters, who shines in the titular role, and an adorably impish Noah Parets as his partner-in-crime, the Artful Dodger.

The Dodger takes the impressionable Oliver under his wing and teaches him how to earn his keep ("Pick a Pocket or Two") under the direction and supervision of Fagin (Stephen Berenson, never better -- or more ghastly), surrogate father and leader of a small army of underage thieves.

It turns out the seemingly sanguine Fagin answers to the much-feared, villainous Bill Sikes (a fierce Timothy John Smith), whose mistreated -- and that's putting it mildly -- girlfriend, Nancy (Rachael Warren, back with her signature stage presence), is especially fond of Oliver.

When Oliver is caught stealing and taken into custody, Sikes fears what the boy may reveal to the authorities and forces Nancy to find him. Meanwhile, the gentleman Oliver attempted to rob, Mr. Brownlow (the always charming Stephen Thorne), has his own reasons for keeping a watchful eye on the street kid, yet it is Nancy most in need of protection.

Eugene Lee's stunning scenery coupled with the impressive performances from the entire cast manage to convey a childlike innocence and optimism, as well as the grit and ugliness of the unkind world that has befallen these select individuals.

While subjects such as poverty, thievery and abuse are hardly cause to break out in song, this production is joyous, enlightening and, simply put, a must-see.

"Oliver!" continues through March 30 at Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington Street, Providence. For info or tickets, call 401-351-4242 or visit Trinity Repertory Company's website.

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.