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Monthly Archives: August 2012

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Connecticut Arts Connection
News and reviews of Connecticut’s professional theater and arts
By Lauren Yarger

The dark and dingy streets of Victorian London and the hard life that faces those without the benefit of family pedigree or fortune are splendidly recreated in Ivoryton Playhouse’s entertaining production of Oliver!, Lionel Bart’s musical adaptation of Charles Dickens classic “Oliver Twist.”

Scenic Designer Cully Long uses drab wood and muted colors (accented by splendid period costumes by LisaMarie Harry) to create a set that is at once mood setting and practical. Planks are borrowed from their position in the set to become parts of tables, coffins and props for choreography (by Kelly Shook), who keeps it the movement simple to get the best out of the very large, mostly non-Equity ensemble. R. Bruce Connelly uses the multiple levels incorporated in Long’s set to produce a  bustling panorama of London street life, or the more intimate setting of the room in a house.

Oliver! Follows the story of Oliver Twist (Tyler Felson), an orphan who causes a stir at the workhouse when the starving boy dares to ask caretaker Mr. Bumble (Michael Cartwright) for more food. He and his cohort, Mrs. Corney (Maureen Pollard) sell the boy into service with creepy undertaker Mr. Sowerberry (a wickedly funny Robert Boardman who continually measures his annoying wife, played by Tara Michelle Gesling, for a coffin). They and their daughter, Charlotte (Chloe Michelle Kounadis) treat him cruelly and when shop employee Noah Claypole (Sam Schrader) insults Oliver’s mother, he sorrowfully asks, “Where is Love?”

He runs from them into the hands of the Artful Dodger (an engaging Nathan J. Russo making an impressive acting debut), a young master pickpocket, who lives on the streets with a lot of other boys who steal handkerchiefs, wallets and jewelry. Russo does a nice job with “Consider Yourself.” Their protector is Fagin (Neal Mayer), who teaches Oliver the tricks of their trade.

Mayer, who returns to the playhouse on the heels of a notable performance as Wilbur in Hairspray, steals the show again with a comical take on Fagin which almost makes him sympathetic and likable. Also turning in strong performances are T. J. Mannix as brutal burglar Bill Sykes and Kimberly Morgan as his abused wife, Nancy, who help in Fagin’s underhanded business. Mannix was so villainous in his portrayal that he received a hearty round of boos at the curtain call.

Morgan, who also appeared in Hairspray at the Playhouse as one of the Dynamites, takes center stage here as a very strong Nancy. Usually it’s hard to find sympathy for this character. After her husband beats her, she sings, “As Long As He Needs Me,” an infuriating ballad about how she will continue to love him no matter what. You want to go up on stage and shake her. But here, thanks to Morgan’s more robust, self-assured rendition of the character, we get a sense that she’s not stupid, that she understands what she is saying, but is just determined. I might not agree with her choice to stay with rotten Bill, but at least I have a better understanding of why she has made it. That’s quite an accomplishment and hasn’t happened in any other performance of Nancy I have seen.

When Oliver is caught trying to pick a pocket, his gentleman victim, Mr. Brownlow (Larry Lewis) takes pity and invites him to his home, where the kind Mrs. Bedwin (Emily Ide) makes sure he has plenty to eat and a warm bed in which to sleep. When Old Sally (Maggie McGlone Jennings) is on her deathbed, she reveals a long-held secret about Oliver’s mother. Kudos to Jennings. She turns a bit part into something special.

DeNicola conducts the particularly full sounding six-piece band. Carin Joy Weisner’s violin solos stand out. Chorus numbers like “Food Glorious Food,” “Who Will Buy” and “Oom, Pah Pah” are nicely executed.

Young Felson, making his debut at the Playhouse, completely captures the sweet, trusting nature of Oliver, even if some of the solos are a stretch for his still developing voice. His natural winsome charm must have caused delighted excitement for Director Connelly. You just can’t coach that in a child actor. It’s either there or it isn’t, and in Felson’s case, it’s there in abundance.

Not only were there a bunch of kids on stage – there were tons of them in the audience during the matinee which I attended. It’s terrific to see youngsters at the theater, but a word of caution: there is some pretty visual violence in the production. That and a two-and-a-half-hour run time might not be appropriate for very little ones.

Oliver! runs through Sept. 2 at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St.

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By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle

It’s not often that a stage musical has the enduring popularity that is enjoyed by Lionel Bart’s award-winning “Oliver” that opened in London ’s West End in 1960.

Its continuing success, in large part, is due to Lionel Bart’s sixteen songs with soaring melodies and believable lyrics that touch on every emotion. He also wrote the timeless libretto based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” It has the distinction of being the first successful musical adaptation of a Dickens novel.

Although the story is riddled with dark themes, including orphans in distress and unsavory adults, it also has humorous and jubilant songs liberally sprinkled throughout with as many kind-hearted gentle folks and engaging rambunctious children as there are in the audience. It’s a high-spirited experience for all within the historic walls of the Ivoryton Playhouse.

The voices in the choral numbers are good and plenty in this ambitious production. “Consider Yourself,” “Who Will Buy,” and “Oom Pah Pah” stand out as well-sung and played with more gusto than the rest of the musical. “Who Will Buy” especially showcases some excellent solo spots by the flower seller, milkmaid, strawberry woman and knife-sharpener as they ply their wares in old London and warm hearts with their pleasing voices.

The Widow Corney, a villain of the workhouse, is delightfully played with just enough comic relief by the talented Maureen Pollard, who has a clear resonant voice and does justice to her song “I Shall Scream.”

Neal Mayers’ Fagin is the standout performance of this production. He not only makes the despicable Fagin engaging, but he sings with superb enunciation and each note is pitch perfect. Fagin is a nasty piece of business, but Mr. Mayers makes the manipulative criminal a likeable one. He ably fills the shoes of all the previous talented actors who have played Fagin on the West End and Broadway stages.

TJ Mannix did so well as the arch villain Bill Sykes that he elicited boos as well as cheers at the curtain call. The bad guy you just love to hate.

And Tyler Felson as Oliver sings his first solo number, “Where Is Love” with a sweetness that captures this orphan boy’s longing for affection. He’s got the audience in the palm of his hand from then on.

Cully Long deserves special mention for his skillful and creative scenic design. It captures the time and place of this Dickensian-era story. He also incorporates the necessary spaces so performers can easily move through this action-filled story without bumping into anyone or anything along the way.

In its current form, “Oliver” should do very well with families with children and school groups. It could serve well as an introduction to musical theater for youngsters who will identify with the child actors and feel sympathy for the make-believe orphans onstage.

Lionel Bart’s songs are familiar, and more than once during the performance a child in the audience would say out loud, “I love that song.” We felt the same way, but waited until we were out of the theater to sing all the way home, and then some.

If you are in London , any time of the year, you can visit one of the atmospheric places that Dickens used in “Oliver Twist.” As we were strolling with friends on Butler ’s Wharf along the Thames River in the shadow of the Tower Bridge , one mate pointed out the luxury flats that were being constructed in the abandoned old stone tea and spice warehouses. “This is the spot where Nancy and Bill Sykes had their dramatic confrontation,” he whispered conspiratorially. It occurred to us that the Dickens story is so ingrained in the minds of the public that it’s as if his characters actually existed.

If you aren’t going to Dickens’ London , any time soon, you can still enjoy the thrill of this classic story by taking the whole family to see this major staging of “Oliver.”

If you go…

WHAT: “Oliver”
WHEN: Through Sept. 2, 2012
WHERE: Ivoryton Playhouse,
103 Main Street , Ivoryton , Conn.
TICKET PRICES: Adult, $40;
Senior, $35; Student, $20; Child, $15
BY PHONE; 860-787-7318



When a scruffy, dirty-faced ragamuffin of an orphan has the audacity to ask, politely, for another bowl of gruel, his reward is to be booted out of his pitiful workhouse home and sold by Mr. Bumble (Michael Cartwright) and his soon-to-be wife the Widow Corney (Maureen Pollard).  The lad finds himself in the employ of a Mr. Sowerberry (Robert Boardman) and his sour wife (Tara Michelle Gesling), the owners of a funeral parlor and made to be a child mourner following the caskets through the streets.

Have no fear, for the lad in question, one resourceful Oliver Twist, soon runs away and lands, for better or worse, in a den of enterprising thieves.  The Ivoryton Playhouse will be picking your pockets and plucking your heartstrings as it presents “Oliver!” with music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart, based on the Charles Dickens’ story until Sunday, September 2.

Set in England in the 1830’s, Dickens wanted to portray the sad fate of youngsters forced to earn a living in deplorable conditions, hoping to change the child labor laws.

Tyler Felson’s Oliver is adorable and is likely to steal your heart as well as your pocketbook.  When he flees the funeral parlor, he is rescued by a clever lad the Artful Dodger (Nathan J. Russo) who introduces him to gang of thieves led by an enterprising and sinisterly charming Neal Mayer as Fagin who teaches Oliver how to “pick a pretty pocket or two.”

In Fagin’s den, Oliver meets the kind- hearted Nancy , a lovely Kimberly Morgan, and her evil hearted companion Bill Sykes, a terrifying T. J. Mannix who instills fear in all who cross his path.  The troupe of young thieves takes Oliver in but he is soon caught in the act and his fate bounces around like a ping-pong ball in a fast game of table tennis. A compassionate Mr. Brownlow (Larry Lewis) gives Oliver a second chance but the long dark shadow of Bill Sykes looms large.

Thanks to an energetic and talented cast our spunky hero overcomes all obstacles, buying himself a beautiful morning and a wonderful life. R. Bruce Connolly does a fine job “reviewing the situation” with a crafty and clever hand as director. Be aware that there are many dark moments that may be inappropriate for young children.

For tickets ( $40 adults, $35 seniors, $20 students and $15 children), call the Playhouse at 860-767-7318 or visit the website at Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton. On Wednesdays August 15, 22 and 29, Food, Glorious Food will be featured before the performance.  Come early for music, food and wine in the tent.

Join Oliver Twist in a London of more than a century and a half ago as he learns the fine art of being a thief from the master himself, Fagin, and his right hand boy The Artful Dodger.

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Raffle Winners!

Thank you to all who supported our annual raffle during the run of Hairspray and congratulations to the winners:

1st Prize – New IPad:  Harry B. from Essex

2nd Prize – New You Makeover Package:  Patti V. from Haddam

3rd Prize – NY Yankees tickets:  Donna F. from Middlebury

4th Prize – Pasta Vita gift certificate:  Bob R. from Guilford

The raffle raised over $8,000 for Playhouse programs – money that is vital to help us continue our mission to enrich, enliven and educate!

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No sooner had the curtain gone down on the final moments of Ivoryton’s smash hit HAIRSPRAY, than Neal Mayer was dropping Wilbur’s Hawaiian shirts in the laundry basket and doffing the rags and tatters of that lovable villain, Fagin. In just 10 short days, OLIVER! will open and  the transformation will be complete – goodbye Baltimore and hello London!

Neal has spent his life in the theatre so transformation and quick change are as natural to him as getting up for work in the morning. He has played characters as different as Claquesous in LES MISERABLES on Broadway and Mandy Patinkin in FORBIDDEN BROADWAY. Neal is thrilled to return to the Ivoryton Playhouse where he previously appeared as Harding in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And if you are driving through town, you may catch Neal in his yellow cycling gear on his bike, enjoying exploring our own beautiful corner of New England.

Don’t miss Neal and rest of Dickens’ motley crew in this all-time family favorite, OLIVER! Winner of 4 Tony awards for the original 1963 Broadway production, Lionel Bart’s sensational score includes Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, You’ve Got to Pick-a-Pocket or Two, I’d Do Anything, Oom Pah Pah, As Long As He Needs Me and many more.

Directed by R. Bruce Connelly, choreography by Kelly Shook and musical direction by John DeNicola. The set design is by Cully Long, lighting design by Doug Harry, and costumes by LisaMarie Harry.

Oliver! opens in Ivoryton on August 8th  and runs through September 2nd  and runs for 4 weeks. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting our website at  (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.

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