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Porthouse Theatre stages quality production of ‘Oliver!’

7/31/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

The Artful Dodger (Patrick Kennedy) and Oliver (Cameron Nelson) consider their new friendship in Porthouse Theatre’s production of “Oliver!”
Photo courtesy of Porthouse Theatre
CUYAHOGA FALLS — Oliver Twist has been part of the English-speaking world since 1838, when the novel was first published.

Charles Dickens wrote the story of the orphan Oliver, who became involved with a gang of pickpockets. The gang of children survive because of the control of the adults the children bring their stolen items to. Oliver is found by the family from whom he’d been kidnapped, but just as quickly, he’s kidnapped again by the pickpockets.

Lionel Bart adapted the Dickens story into a musical, which opened on the West End of London in 1960. The production became the longest running show in the history of London theater. “Oliver!” opened on Broadway in 1963 and received numerous Tony Awards. In 1968, the movie was released and received the Academy Award for Best Movie.

Now, “Oliver!” is playing at Porthouse Theatre through Aug. 10 and played to capacity audiences on its first weekend.

Bart seriously cut the story line to a skeleton plot, but gave the lyrics and music importance and let them carry much of the important plot work.

Bart’s lyrics and music have become international standards. Most readers know the songs, but may not know those songs are from “Oliver!” “As Long As He Needs Me” may be the most popular song in the show. However, other songs have become standards.  Most of us know “Consider Yourself,” “It’s a Fine Life,” “Where Is Love?” “Food, Glorious Food” and others.

The Porthouse cast doesn’t have one weak link. Oliver is played by Cameron Nelson. She just completed the seventh grade at Olmsted Falls Middle School.

Patrick Kennedy makes the Artful Dodger one of the most memorable characters in this production with energetic dancing and quality singing. Kennedy is a student at St. Edward High School and is a member of Actors’ Equity.

Mariam Henkel-Moellmann creates a strong-willed Nancy. She holds the audience in the palm of her hand when she sings “As Long as He Needs Me.” She is a strong actress and an exciting singer.

Brian Keith Johnson makes Bill Sykes a threatening villain. Johnson has a strong, beautiful voice that seems to fill all of Porthouse. 

Eric van Baars plays Fagin as a serious criminal. Van Baars has not been on the stage for several years. It’s good to have him back where he belongs. It’s a pleasure to watch him dance and sing of the pleasures of picking pockets.

Music director Jonathan Swoboda led an 11-piece orchestra from backstage and kept the music moving at a brisk pace.

Choreographer MaryAnn Black did an excellent job with the big production numbers. However, she was equally good with the smaller numbers. I admire her for making the children’s group (12) seem to be excellent dancers. 

Costume designer Sarah Russell dressed the large cast in historically accurate costumes, yet, the colorful costumes were stageworthy — that is, they moved well for the dance numbers. “Oliver!” is a physical show and the costumes contributed to the physicality.

Director Terri Kent did an excellent job keeping a large cast, orchestra and technical crew organized and working as a unit. She was at her best with the large number of children in the cast.

“Oliver!” is a difficult show to produce. The show has multiple sets, a large cast, a large number of children in the cast and a great deal of music. For these and other reasons “Oliver!” although popular, is rarely produced.

I urge you to take this opportunity to see a quality production of “Oliver!”

For ticket information, call 330-672-3884 or purchase tickets online at www.porthousetheatre.com.


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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