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Oliver - The Musical An Excellent Hit Show In The Catskills

Theatrical Review

William A. Brenner
Posted 7/28/23

SOUTH FALLSBURG — “Oliver Twist”, by Charles Dickens was a classic novel; “Oliver” the play, opened in London in 1960, was quickly moved to Broadway where it won a Tony …

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Oliver - The Musical An Excellent Hit Show In The Catskills

Theatrical Review


SOUTH FALLSBURG — “Oliver Twist”, by Charles Dickens was a classic novel; “Oliver” the play, opened in London in 1960, was quickly moved to Broadway where it won a Tony as Best Play; and “Oliver”the film won the Academy Award in 1968 as Best Picture.

Now “Oliver! The Musical”by Lionel Bart is the Catskills phenomenal hit production of the 2023 theatrical season.

“Oliver!” opened Friday night July 14, at the air conditioned Rivoli Theater in South Fallsburg by the Sullivan County Dramatic Workshop, in celebration of 74 seasons of award winning live theater. A combination of local residents and summer vacationers packed the house.

And, “Oliver! The Musical” lived up to its spectacular reputation with its cast of 37 cast members; plus those behind the scenes and an 8 piece orchestra.

Creatively the theater was expanded to fit the diversity of the show. There was a revolving stage with steps, bridges and tunnels; two smaller stages, along the side walls, and the cast sometimes sang walking down the aisles interacting with the audience.

And, the audience drawn into the show, whooped and hollered, and laughed and cried.

Seven year old Cayden Keesler, as Oliver kicked off the action at the orphanage with the kids, raucously demanding “Food, Glorious Food”and Oliver upsetting the applecart asking for “more gruel”.

Being sold on the street, Oliver sings the emotional showstopper “Where is Love”.

Taken in by the street urchin kids led by the mischievous “Artful Dodger (Hope Kinne) singing “Consider Yourself at Home”Oliver is personally instructed by the wonderful devious Fagan (Joseph Jervois) who instructs the young street thieves that “You Have to Pick a Pocket or Two”(these are not the cute orphans from the show “Annie”); these kids are rough street pickpockets.

In the middle of this criminal camp is the kind hearted, vivacious “Nancy” (Alea Vorilla) who takes Oliver under her wing and with the children she belts out “It’s a Fine Life”, “I’ll Do Anything for You”, the rowdy barroom ballad “Om-Pah-Pah” and the showstopper “As Long As He Needs Me”.

Alongside Nancy, and equally voluptuous and raunchy is her sidekick “Bet”(Isabel Lopez-Diaz) in her red dress, singing, dancing and swinging her seductive body.

And as an incarnation of evil madness Bill Sikes (played with a vengeance by Alberto Santiago) shocks the audience to reality (“My Name”).

Equally important lesser roles, played out on the “side stages”are Lourdessa Hunt as Widow Corney and Kristopher Rosengant as Mr. Bumble and their old English sexual seduction (“I Shall Scream!”).

Also Jean Erfert and Harold Teague as the undertakers Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (she ends up dumped in the coffin).

And Melissa McTague and Geri Lake as Mr. Brownlaw and Ms. Bedwin who discover Oliver’s true heritage.

And, all the townsfolk and all the kids who filled and ran around the stage and on the stairs, having a wild time are too numerous to mention.

Another essential ingredient of the show was the extraordinary local musicians.

Amy Phillips was the Musical Director and Lauren Bernard was the Pit Director. In his own corner was Don Plummer on tuba. The harmonious B-flat tuba on a special tuba rack was described as a rare “Causmer”from the 1950’s made in Paris. What a sound! Don, from Monticello for the last 7 years, is a member of OCCC Orange County Orchestra, best known for their Christmas Tuba concerts.

Donna Clear from South Fallsburg played the Bass Clarinet. She is a band teacher at Fallsburg High School and plays with the Adirondack Wind Ensemble, SUNY Ulster Wind Ensemble and the Callicoon Center Band.

Libby Lake from Loch Sheldrake played the flute and works at Bethel Woods. Most notable in Oliver, when Fagan sings the Yiddish ballad, “I’m Reviewing the Situation”, Libby plays the violin interlude (played by Issac Stern) on the flute. Both are showstoppers.

The pianist and music educator is Jeff Keung, who lived in Jeffersonville his whole life, is an experienced musical accompanist.

Clarinetist and Saxophonist Kenny Leight is from New Hampton and is an active member of the Pine Bush Community Band, Maybrook Wind Ensemble and Professional Musicians of Orange County.

Jay Solomon is the trumpet player, holding onto his day job as a Chiropractor for a pain management clinic in Middletown.

But the greatest achievement to the success of “Oliver! The Musical”was behind the scenes. Much of the time the actors and the musicians practiced outside the theater in churches while the stage sets were being constructed.

Director Heather Strauss, Producer Jenny Silverman, Choreographer Kris Schneebergen, Set Designers Keith Prince, Heather Strauss, Harold Teague and Lou Silverman, Thomas Caputo, Anna Puleo, Alexis Costa, Jean Eifert and Susan Zelinski. And the sound and lighting crew was directed by Dawn Perneszi.

On a personal note, you can’t compare the “Oliver”movie with the live show. It is a breathtaking marvel to see the creative ingenuity in the creation of the revolving sound stage and the choreography. With the show stopping song “Who Will Buy My Lovely Roses”the “street sellers”walked up and down the aisles singing and giving out flowers.

At the end of this opening night, after the second or third standing curtain call, the young amateur actors and kids ran off the stage into the audience, just as the audience was rushing to the stage with flowers to give hugs, kiss es, smiles and congratulations.

The Catskills, in Sullivan and Ulster Counties, had wonderful entertainment in the hotels. It is continuing its tradition of the finest, reasonable cost entertainment from Fallsburg to Bethel to Forestburgh, Narrowsburg, Callicoon, Hurleyville and Wurtsboro.

Enjoy the summer in the Catskills.


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