A new twist on “Oliver!”

Human Race Theatre offers unique take on Dickens’ classic

By Brian P. Sharp

Human Race Theatre Company has a winner in “Oliver!” As someone who has directed “Oliver!” I went into this production a skeptic. “Ugh, another production of ‘Oliver’ full of kids.” We all know the story – based on the Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist” – of the boys from the orphanage eating gruel, learning to pick pockets, being kidnapped, etc. However, this one is different. Director Alan Souza takes us in an entirely new direction. In his notes he said, “Would life imitate art, or vice versa? Certainly they would sing about it!”

This production is a show within a show. Set in a pub – which is expertly designed by David A. Centers, with help from Eric Moore, Nick Crumbley and Ray Zupp – the night is Christmas Eve 1838 and these folks venture into a pub for a night of fun.

I would be totally remiss if I didn’t say that the musical direction is done by Helen Gregory and she is nothing short of amazing! Not only is she the musical director, but she plays the piano nearly the entire show – sometimes while her piano is being moved around the stage –never missing a note. She takes on roles, talks, sings, plays … she does everything except cook them dinner. Bravo!

The other technical notable is certainly the choreographer, Spencer Liff. While the show starts in silence, that doesn’t last long, and once that changes it doesn’t stop. The dancing and choreographed movements are expertly executed. From simple dance steps to movement while seated on a step by most of the men to dancing over moving barrels, it is a sight to behold.  Liff has been seen on the past four seasons of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” receiving an Emmy nomination for his work last season.

This production has a marvelous cast. In the title role is Blaise Bouschard. Not only does Bouschard deliver theatrically, but vocally as well with a pure and simple voice that must be heard. He is a convincing young man, tender and kind, of whom I am sure we will see more. He has been seen locally at The Dayton Playhouse and LaComedia. Joseph Medeiros, who plays the Artful Dodger and others, has an energy and presence that is a standout in this performance. Medeiros is making his Human Race Theatre Company debut with this performance but has been seen on the Broadway stage in “Wicked,” “West Side Story,” “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Grease” and “Big.” Sara Sheperd portrays Nancy and others, delivering an emotional performance. Scott Stoney plays Mr. Bumble and others – a founding Resident Artist of the Human Race Theatre Company, he is superb in the many roles he takes on in this production. An excellent performance by Stoney helps make this production a success.  Nicholas Belton, playing Bill Sikes and others, delivers a serious performance that is well played. Chris Shea is also making his Human Race Theatre debut as Mr. Brownlow and others, delivering a believable Brownlow played with emotion. Shea is known locally as the founding artistic director of Free Shakespeare! It is nice to see and hear Shea in this twist of classical theatre.

Other cast members include Gary Troy as Fagin and others, Ian Devine as Noah Claypool and others, and Adam Lendermon as Mr. Sowberry and others.

The performance simply holds you in its grasp from beginning to end. The action doesn’t stop.  This is a production that is not to be missed. The run has been extended through Dec. 22 at the Loft Theatre. One patron sitting near me said, “This is one of their best productions ever.”

The task is a difficult one, to take a classical piece of theatre and re-imagine it. Yet Souza does just that, and with excellence. It is clear in this production how this relates to today with the struggles of those in need and those with plenty. This is an emotional production and one that can pull on your heartstrings … if you let it. This is a perfect way to spend an evening during this holiday season, right here in downtown Dayton.

The Human Race Theatre presents “Oliver!” at The Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. Performances run through Dec. 22. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticketcenterstage.com or by calling the box office at 937-228-3630. For more information, including dates and times, visit humanracetheatre.org.

Reach DCP theatre critic Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP food critic Brian P. Sharp at BrianSharp@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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